Summer War (1941)

​War waged by the Estonian Forest brothers against the security forces, destruction battalions and Red Army units in summer 1941.

After the Estonian occupation and the beginning of Soviet repression in summer and autumn 1940, a large number of people went into hiding in the forests. The movement of the Forest Brothers became a mass movement in summer 1941. This was caused by intensifying Soviet repression, especially the mass deportation in June 1941, and the Red Army mobilisations in July and August 1941. As a rule, people hid in the forests near their homes. They occasionally went back home for food, carried out various jobs around the house and in the fields, and looked after the cattle. This was the life that was possible in summertime.

At first, people simply hid and waited for the war to break out between the Soviet Union and Germany. Later, the Forest Brothers became more active, attacking Soviet institutions and smaller Red Army units. Beginning in late June 1941, destruction battalions were formed of people loyal to the Soviet authorities. One of their tasks was to fight the Forest Brothers. Destruction battalions became the main adversary of the Forest Brothers.

The retreating Red Army abandoned the southern part of Estonia without any serious resistance, and the front was located in central Estonia. In the power vacuum, the Forest Brothers seized power in many places in the southern parts of the country, hoisted Estonian flags and restored the local governments. Destruction battalions sent to fight them usually managed to force the inadequately armed Forest Brothers to retreat. In the course of ‘scorched earth tactics’, the battalions destroyed crops and cattle, as well as industrial equipment that they failed to transport to Russia. Courts-martial were set up and sentenced to death everybody caught in hiding or suspected of being a Forest Brother or helping them. Their farms were looted and burnt down. The Forest Brothers, in turn, eliminated members of the destruction battalions, Soviet activists and people suspected of assisting in deportations. They were sentenced by vigilante courts and shot . There were occasions on both sides where people settled their personal scores.

After seizing power, the Forest Brothers called themselves the Home Guard (in the tense atmosphere after the February Revolution, local voluntary units were formed under the general name of Home Guard, which later developed into the Defence League). Prominent leaders of the Forest Brothers included Colonel Viktor Koern (head of the Home Guard in Pärnu and the government representative of the Republic of Estonia in Pärnu County), Major Friedrich Kurg in Tartu county (from 14 July 1941 commander of all guerrillas in the liberated parts of Estonia), Major Hans Hirvelaan in southern Harju County, Captain Karl Talpak in Otepää and Tartu, and others. The more significant military operations in which the Forest Brothers took part, were the Battle of Audru and the taking over of the southern part of Tartu; Forest Brother units also participated in the invasion of Tallinn.

After invading Estonia, the Germans disbanded the Forest brother units and the spontaneously formed Home Guard. The members of the latter later became constables (Schutzmannschaft). The number of militarily organised and commanded, and at least partly armed, Forest Brothers was estimated at about 12,000. At least 561 of them were killed. There were over 2000 civilian victims of the Summer War, including several hundred people executed by the NKVD and KGB when the prisons were emptied. This number does not include the Red activists killed by the Forest Brothers, as due to the unknown time of the executions it is not always possible to distinguish between people sentenced and executed before and after the establishing of the German occupation power.

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