War events in Estonia in 1944
In 1941-1944 Estonia was under German occupation. In February 1944, the advancing Red Army, which had broken the Siege of Leningrad, reached the Narva River. Despite the pessimism of the German command, Hitler considered the defence of Estonia important in order to support the ally state of Finland. The Soviet Baltic Fleet, having broken out of the eastern end of the Gulf of Finland, was a threat to the shipping of iron ore from Sweden to Germany. The fuel produced from Estonian oil shale was important as well.
The German Army Group Nord had suffered heavy losses. In order to enhance the defensive power in the Baltic area, the political administrators of Germany ordered the mobilisation of 30,000 Latvians and 15,000 Estonians. The general mobilisation of fighting-age men born in 1904-1923 was proclaimed in Estonia on 30 January 1944; those born in 1926 were mobilised later that year. During that time, 40,000-50,000 men were mobilised in Estonia. The Estonian territorial units formed in 1941-1943 were brought to Estonia. Based on the mobilised men and the already existing units, the 20th Estonian SS Division, seven border defence regiments, police infantry battalions and other units were formed. Together with the Home Guard units, Estonian volunteers in the Finnish Army, and the Air Force Auxiliary Service, the number of Estonians drafted into German armed forces numbered about 70,000.
The Soviets attacked with a force of four armies from the Leningrad front. The German defence was led by the Army Group Narwa on the Narva front and by the 18th Army on the shores of Lake Peipsi. Several infantry divisions and other troops were brought to Estonia from other sectors of the front. About 125,000 men were subordinated to the Army Group Narwa on 1 March. The advance of the Red Army was halted in battles fought on the Narva front section from February to April.
In June, the Red Army started to advance in Finland and moved rapidly forward in Byelorussia. Some of the German troops were removed from Estonia and replaced with Estonian units. In summer, Estonian units comprised about a half of the German infantry on the Narva front.
In the second half of July, the German command abandoned Narva and retreated about 15 km to the west, to the Sinimäed line. In the south, the front line was set at the Narva River. The bloody battles fought at Sinimäed at the end of July and the beginning of August did not bring success to the Red Army. On 10 August, the 3rd Baltic Front of the Red Army started to advance near Alūksne in Latvia. Tartu fell on 25 August and the front stabilised on the Emajõgi River. Both sides sent additional troops to the Emajõgi front; among others, the Red Army also sent the 8th Estonian Rifle Corps.
On 16 September, the German command decided to withdraw from mainland Estonia. The next day, the Red Army started an offensive on the Emajõgi River. German forces around Lake Võrtsjärv retreated towards Latvia.
From Sinimäed and the Narva River, German forces retreated to the city of Pärnu and evacuated by sea. Enterprises, institutions and civilians were evacuated to Germany. On 22 September, Tallinn fell to the Red Army, although battles continued on the western Estonian islands. The last area conquered by the Red Army, at the end of November, was the Sõrve Peninsula (the south-western extremity of the Island of Saaremaa).
The battles fought in Estonia in 1944 resulted in many casualties; the total number is not known. From February to the end of June, up to 6000 men were killed and up to 30,000 wounded on the German side in Estonia. Losses in the second half of the year, especially in the Sinimäed battles, on the Emajõgi River and the Sõrve Peninsula, must have been just as heavy. The number of Red Army casualties was even larger, due to heavy losses on the Narva front and at Sinimäed
Modified: 02.10.2012 12:56