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Like many other cities of the former East Prussia, Memel has two names. Officially in 1252-1923 and in 1939-1945 it was named Memel; in 1923-1939 and since 1945 it has had the name Klaipeda. With the creation of the united German state in 1871, Memel became the most northeasterly city of Germany. Still, according to the 1905 census, almost half of the inhabitants of the region declared Lithuanian as their mother tongue. The town is located today in Lithuania at the Baltic sea and has about 190,000 inhabitants.

By 1914 the fortifications along the coast of Prussia (Memel, Pillau, Neufahrwasser), and the coast of Pomerania (Swinemunde, Stralsund, Rugen), were not subordinate to the navy, but to the foot artillery of the army. Memel, a seaport with 19,200 inhabitants in 1887, is located at the entrance to the Kurische Haff, tbe northernmost town in Prussia, and the central point of the Baltic timber-trade. It was the birthplace of Simon Dacu (1605-59), the author of 'Aennchen von Tharau'.

On the side next the sea the town was defended by a citadel and other fortifications, and the entrance to the harbor was protected by a lighthouse. The entrance to Memel lay between two moles. The See Gat is that part of the entrance channel lying outside the moles; the depths are signaled from the Center and Signal Beacons. The channel varies both in depth and direction, particularly in the spring floods, and after a continuance of northerly and northwesterly gales. By German plan it had a least depth of 20 feet. The See Tief is that part of the channel extending from the south molehead to the Schweinsriicken, a sand bank between the Nehrung and the mainland at the entrance to the Kurische Haff. The See Tief is about 4 miles long, from 197 to 328 yards wide in the channel, and has a depth of 19 to 26 feet at mean water level. The western shore of the See Tief is formed by the northern end of Kurische Nehrung, on which there is a battery, a boat harbor, and a wind semaphore station. Memel Hafen is accessible by vessels of 19 feet draft from the entrance to the cellulose factory, 1,100 yards southward of the mouth of the Dange; thence to the loading pier of Appelhagen by those drawing 17 feet, and to abreast the Schwiensrucken by those drawing 13 feet.

By 1910 Memel had been largely rebuilt since a destructive fire in 1854. It possessed iron-foundries, shipbuilding yards, breweries, distilleries, and manufactories of chemicals, soap and amber wares. By far the most important interest of the town, however, was its transit trade in timber and the grain and other agricultural products of Lithuania, and also herrings and other kinds of fish. The timber was brought by river from the forests of Russia, and is prepared for export in numerous saw-mills. A Prussian national memorial was unveiled here in the presence of the emperor William II in September 1907.

Memel was founded in 1252 by Poppo von Osterna, grand master of the Teutonic order, and was at first called New Dortmund and afterwards Memelburg. It soon acquired a considerable trade, and joined the Hanseatic League. During the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries it was repeatedly burned by its hostile neighbours, the Lithuanians and Poles, and in the 17th century it remained for some time in the possession of Sweden. In 1757, and again in 1813, it was occupied by Russian troops. After the battle of Jena, King Frederick William III. retired to Memel; and here, in 1807, a treaty was concluded between England and Prussia. The poet Simon Dach was a native of Memel.

An event in which no great number of troops were concerned, but which was of importance, because of the feeling which it aroused in Germany and because it was the first of a series of operations in what was practically a new theatre of the war was the Russian invasion of the very northernmost tip of East Prussia. On Thursday, the 18th of March, 1915, the Russians coming simultaneously from the north and the east across the border of Courland, moved on the Prussian city of Memel in several columns. Their troops included seven battalions of militia with six or eight guns of an old model, several squadrons of mounted men, two companies of marines, a battalion of a reserve regiment, and border defense troops from Riga and Libau, a total of some 6,000 to 10,000 men.

The German Landsturm troops at the Prussian boundary fell back on Memel, not being in sufficient force to resist the advance. They were finally driven through the city and across the narrow strip of water known as the Kurische Haff to the dunes akmg the shore of the Baltic. The Russians burned down numerous buildings along the roads on which they approached, according to the German report, inflicting heavy damage on fifteen villages. A considerable number of the inhabitants, including women and children, were removed to Russia, and a number of civilians were killed.

The troops entered the city on the evening of March 18 and took the mayor and three other men of the town as hostages. Apparently the Russian commander made some efforts to restrain his men, but plundering of stores and dwellings nevertheless occurred. On the 20th of March, 1915, the city was for a time cleared of Russian troops, but on Sunday, the 21st, other soldiers entered the town from the north. These were met by German patrols, which were followed by stronger German forces that had come up from the south to drive back the invaders. Street fighting followed, and the Russians were finally thrown out, losing about 150 dead.

The Russians were pursued on March 22 and 23, 1915, and in passing through Polangen, close to the shore of the Baltic, came under the fire of German cruisers. They lost some 500 prisoners, 3 guns, 3 machine guns, and ammunition wagons. With the German troops which cleared the Russians out of Memel was the son of the emperor, Prince Joachim of Prussia.

Concerning this raid the following official announcement was made by the Germans on March 18, 1915: "Russian militia troops have gained a cheap success in the northernmost corner of East Prussia in the direction of Memel. They have plundered and burned villages and farms. As a penalty, we have ordered the cities occupied by us in Russian territory to pay considerable sums in damages. For every village or farm burned down by these hordes on German soil three villages or farms of the territory occupied by us in Russia will be given over to the flames. Each act of damage in Memel will be answered by the burning of Russian Government buildings in Suwalki and other capitals of governments."

Lithuania did not exist as an independent country immediately after the end of World War I, and with the Treaty of Versailles the town of Memel and the surrounding territory was placed under the protectorate of the Entente States. The territory was called Memelland and was separated from Germany and an autonomous government under temporary French jurisdiction was installed. In January 1923 the Memelland was occupied by Lithuanian irregulars. But in February the region was officially handed over from French administration to Lithuania.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 02:54:45 ZULU