War events in Estonia in 1941

​The war between Germany and the Soviet Union broke out in June 1941. The chief aim of the German army unit Nord, which moved towards north-west Russia at the beginning of the war, was to conquer Leningrad. Latvia and Lithuania were quickly taken and the army moved on towards Leningrad. Occupying Estonia was also necessary in order to repel the Baltic fleet from the Baltic Sea and to secure the left wing.

The Wehrmacht crossed the Estonian border on 7 July. The planned speedy advance was impeded by the tough resistance of the Red Army and the Germans’ problems with supply transport. The Red Army halted the German advance in mid-July at the Emajõgi River-Matsalu Bay line. The Red Army had five rifle divisions in Estonia, and more were brought in later. There was also one division of the NKVD (the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs), NKVD destruction battalions, which had retreated from Latvia and formed on the spot, one brigade on the islands, units of the Baltic fleet and coast defence, and Air Force units. The Estonian units in the Red Army were, at the same time, taken out of the country, including over 30,000 Estonian men mobilised in July and August.

The German army command hoped that the Red Army resistance would be weak and, in Estonia, used only one unit, with two infantry divisions, of the 18th army, which moved towards Pärnu and Viljandi. This was clearly not enough and, in the second half of July and in August, another army corps was moved into Estonia, as well as three infantry divisions. The Germans were actively supported by companies of the Estonian Forest Brothers and Home Guard. The former also waged guerilla war, in the Red Army rear, against both the destruction battalions and the regular armed forces (the Summer War). Several thousand Estonian volunteers directly joined German infantry divisions, including the reconnaissance group Erna from Finland.

After regrouping its forces, the Germans continued their attack in late July. They reached Lake Peipsi, near Mustvee, and surrounded and then destroyed a Red Army rifle brigade located on the northern banks of the Emajõgi River. In early August, the Germans made it to the Gulf of Finland near Kunda and took Narva on 17 August. The operation of conquering Tallinn took place between 20 and 28 August. The Baltic fleet, evacuated from Tallinn, the Red Army units and employees of Soviet enterprises suffered great losses as a result of air raids and minefields, where thousands were killed.

The Germans conquered the largest Estonian islands in September and October, the last being Osmussaar in December.

The battles fought in Estonia were fierce and bloody. The Germans lost over 3000 men and, in addition, several hundred Estonians died. The Red Army losses are not known, although at least 50,000 were arrested in Estonia. The Soviet security forces, destruction battalions and the retreating soldiers killed about 2000 civilians.

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