The post-WW II armed resistance to Soviet power in Estonia

In 1944 the Red Army re-conquered the territory of Estonia and a new Soviet occupation began. When the German troops withdrew, many Estonians who had served with them decided to stay at home and to seek temporary refuge in the forests. It was believed that the Western countries would not agree to this annexation and would soon force the Soviet Union to restore Estonian independence (so-called "waiting for the white boat"). 

The people hiding in the forests were soon joined by those wishing to avoid conscription to the Red Army and by the former members of the Defence League and the Home Guard. They formed the armed Estonian resistance movement or the core of the so-called Forest Brothers movement. There were about 30,000 Forest Brothers in post-war Estonia, but not all of them took part in armed conflict. 

It was initially hoped that a new war would break out soon and thus people concentrated on hiding and stocking up weapons. The awaited Western help never materialised and instead the Soviet authorities started massive military operations to capture the Forest Brothers and their supporters. The network of NKVD (later KGB) agents rapidly expanded and the raids in forests and in farmhouses became increasingly frequent. Passive resistance was no longer enough to survive. In 1945, groups of Forest Brothers all over Estonia started active resistance. The groups attacked smaller KGB units, village councils and executive committees of the parishes. Rough justice was meted out in the forests against members of the search battalions, party leaders and other active collaborators. In the name of the Republic of Estonia, food, clothes and cash were requisitioned from the co-operative shops and other state enterprises. During 1945 alone, the NKVD registered 340 attacks by the Forest Brothers in Estonia (in Soviet terminology: ‘manifestations of banditry’), including 126 ‘acts of terror’ and seven ‘acts of diversion’.

The largest Estonian forest brothers’ organisation was called the Armed Resistance League. The ARL operated actively in 1946-1949 and gathered freedom-fighters from various Estonian counties and towns. However, attempts to form stable associations of forest brothers all over Estonia failed; groups of 5-10 usually operated independently. Gradually they learned guerrilla war tactics which required such decentralisation. A heavy blow to the movement was dealt by the mass deportations in March 1949, when people, mainly farmers and their families, were deported to Siberia, usually because they had resisted Soviet attempts to collectivise their farms. Immediately after the deportations the number of people hiding in the forests increased, but this was soon followed by a rapid decrease. Eliminating the farms and forced collectivisation robbed the Forest Brothers of their supporters.

By 1953 the Soviet authorities managed to suppress active armed resistance in Estonia. The post-WW II armed resistance in Estonia claimed the lives of about 2000 Forest Brothers, thousands were arrested and send to Siberian prison camps. After 1953 the resistance became increasingly infrequent, although some partisans held out in freedom for decades. August Sabbe, the last known Estonian forest brother, was killed while being arrested in Võrumaa in 1978.

The post-WW II anti-Soviet guerrilla fighting in Estonia was on the whole less extensive than, for example, similar movements in Lithuania and the Ukraine. The overall number of the forest brothers was here smaller, the movement less centralised and no single leader of the resistance movement emerged.

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