The Memel territory was an important port in the eastern Baltic Sea.
The area had been conquered by the Teutonic Knights in the Middle Ages. The city was founded by them in 1252. It came under control of Prussia and converted to Lutheranism in the reformation. It was a prosperous trading and shipping center for lumber and wheat, and was a major Hanseatic League city. The many wars in the region saw Memel captured several times back and forth.
In 1920 the Treaty of Versailles separated it from German East Prussia, and put it under French administration. The population was almost all German.
In 1923, Lithuania sent its military forces to seize the area during what is called the "Klaipeda revolt". The French forces put up a token resistance and left, and in 1923 the annexation of the area now called the Klaipeda region by Lithuania was confirmed by the international community. The Germans forced Lithuania to return the area in 1939 after 90% of the people voted for the Nazis.
After the German defeat in 1945 the Germans were all expelled and the area came under Lithuania, which renamed the city Klaipėda. The population is about 185,000—two thirds Lithuanians and the rest mostly Russians.