8th Estonian Rifle Corps

​Estonian national unit in the Red Army in World War II

Preparations for establishing Estonian national units in the Red Army started in autumn 1941. On 18 December 1941 the State Defence Committee of the Soviet Union issued a secret decree to start forming the 7th Estonian Rifle Division in the Ural military district. National units within the Red Army were also formed of Latvians, Lithuanians, Georgians, Kazakhs etc.

During the formation of the 7th Estonian Rifle Division, it turned out that one division was not enough to accommodate all of the Estonian conscripts in the Soviet rear. Hence, another division was formed in Chelyabinsk Oblast – the 249th Estonian Rifle Division. In September 1942 the Estonian divisions were joined into the 8th Estonian Rifle Corps. It consisted of approximately 27 000 men, 85-90% of whom were Estonian. The commander of the corps was Lieutenant General Lembit Pärn.

The 8th Estonian Rifle Corps served in the army for over two and a half years. The corps participated in battle for 125 days – 39 days at Velikiye Luki from December 1942 to January 1943; 69 days in the operation of invading Estonia in 1944 (mostly on Saaremaa Island) and 17 days in Courland in March 1945. In addition, the corps’ artillery operated within the 2nd Baltic front at Nevel, Novosokolnik and Nasva in autumn 1943, and on the Narva front in 1944. There were at least two reasons why the corps did not often take part in battles: as a national army unit it was seen as untrustworthy, and the corps was needed more for propaganda (‘Soviet Estonia's own army’) than for military purposes.

From June 1945 until it was dissolved in May 1946, the unit was called the 41st Guards Estonian Tallinn Rifle Corps. Estonian national units were not, however, totally abolished. Until 1956, the majority of conscripts served in Estonian territory, either in the 22nd Guards Single Estonian Rifle Brigade (1946-1951) or in the 118th Guards Estonian Rifle Division (1951-1956).

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