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20th Waffen-SS Grenadier Division
Estonian Division.jpg
Divisional insignia of 20th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (1st Estonian)
Active February 1944 - 9 May 1945
Country Nazi Germany Nazi Germany
Branch Flag Schutzstaffel.svg Waffen SS
Type Infantry
Role Defending territory of Estonia
Size Division
Part of III (Germanic) SS Panzer Corps
Nickname Estonian Division
Motto Varemeist tõuseb kättemaks! (Vengeance Will Rise from the Ruins!)
Colors Blue, Black & White               
March The Song of Estonian Legionaires
Engagements Battle of Narva 1944
Battle of Tannenberg Line 1944
Battle of Tartu 1944
Vistula-Oder Offensive 1945
Battle of Oppeln 1945
Franz Augsberger

20th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (1st Estonian) (German: 20.Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS (estnische Nr.1), Estonian: 20. Eesti relvagrenaderide SS-diviis) was established on 25 May. 1944 in German occupied Estonia during WW II. Formed in Spring 1944 after the general conscription-mobilization was announced in Estonia on 31 January 1944 by the German occupying authorities, the cadre of the 3 Estonian SS Volunteer Brigade that had been renamed the 20th Estonian SS Volunteer Division on 23 January 1944, was returned to Estonia and reformed. Additionally 38 000 men were conscripted in Estonia and other Estonian units that had fought on various fronts in the German Army, and the Finnish Infantry Regiment 200 were rushed to Estonia. Estonian officers and men in other units that fell under the conscription proclamation and had returned to Estonia had their rank prefix changed from "SS" to "Waffen" (Hauptscharführer would be referred to as a Waffen-Hauptscharführer rather than SS-Hauptscharführer). The wearing of SS runes on the collar was forbidden, and these formations began wearing a national insignia instead.
The Division fought the Red Army on the Eastern Front and surrendered in May 1945.


Historical context

On 16 June 1940, the Soviet Union had invaded Estonia. [1] The military occupation of the Republic of Estonia by Soviet Union was complete by the 21 June 1940 and rendered "official" by a communist coup d'état supported by the Soviet troops. [2]

After Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941, the Germans were perceived by most Estonians as liberators from the USSR and its repressions, and hopes were raised for the restoration of the country's independence. The initial enthusiasm that accompanied the liberation from Soviet occupation quickly waned as Estonia became a part of the German-occupied "Reichskommissariat Ostland "

By January 1944, the front was pushed back by the Red Army almost all the way to the former Estonian border. On 31 January. 1944 general conscription-mobilization was announced in Estonia by the German authorities.[3]On 7 February Jüri Uluots, the last constitutional prime minister of the republic of Estonia [4] supported the mobilization call during a radio address in hopes for restoring the Estonian Army and independence of the country. [nb 1] 38,000 men were conscripted, the formation of the 20th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (1st Estonian) had begun. [6]


The 20th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS was formed in January 1944 via general conscription, from a cadre drawn on the 3. Estnische SS Freiwilligen Brigade, and further troops from the Ost Battalions and the 287th Police Fusilier Battalion and the returned Estonian volunteers of the Finnish army unit Finnish Infantry Regiment 200. [7][8][9]


Estonian soldiers prepare to fire a Panzerschreck during the Battle of Narva (1944)

On 8 February 1944, the division was attached to Gruppenführer Felix Steiner's III SS (Germanic) Panzer Corps, then defending the Narva bridgehead. The division was to replace the remnants of the 9th and 10th Luftwaffe Field Divisions, which were struggling to hold the line against a Soviet bridgehead north of the town of Narva. Upon arriving at the front on 20 February, the division was ordered to eliminate the Soviet bridgehead. In nine days of heavy fighting, the division pushed the Soviets back across the river and restored the line. The division remained stationed in the Siivertsi and Auvere sectors, being engaged in heavy combat. In May, they were pulled out of the front line and reformed, with the recently returned Narwa battalion into the division as the reconnaissance battalion. By that time, active conscription of Estonian men into the German armed forces was well under way. By Spring 1944, approximately 32,000 men were drafted into the German forces, with the 20th Waffen Grenadier Division consisting of some 15,000 men.
When Steiner ordered a withdrawal to the Tannenberg Line on 25 July, the division was deployed on the Lastekodumägi Hill, the first line of defence for the new position. Over the next month, the division was engaged in heavy defensive battles on the Sinimäed hills. In mid-August, the division's 45th Estland and 46th regiments were formed into the Kampfgruppe Vent and sent south to help defend the Emajõgi river line, seeing heavy fighting.
When Adolf Hitler authorised the full withdrawal from Estonia in mid September, all men who wished to stay to defend their homes were released from service. Many chose this offer, fighting the Soviets alongside other Estonian units and then withdrawing into the forests to become the Forest Brothers. Severely weakened by this, the division was withdrawn to Neuhammer to be refitted.

Vistula-Oder Offensive - Final battles

Eventually, the reformed division numbered roughly 11,000 Estonian's and 2,500 Germans, returned to the front line in late February, just in time for the Soviet Vistula-Oder Offensive. This offensive forced the German forces back behind the Oder and Neisse rivers. The division was pushed back to the Neisse, taking heavy casualties. The division was then trapped with the XI. Armeekorps in the Oberglogau - Falkenberg - Friedberg area. On 17 March, the division launched a major escape attempt, but despite making headway, the attempt failed. On 19 March, the division tried again, this time succeeding but leaving all heavy weapons and equipment behind in the pocket.
In April 1945, the remnants of the division were moved south to the area around Goldberg. After the Prague Offensive, the division attempted to break out in the west, in order to surrender to the western Allies.[10] The local Czech population resumed their hostilities on the surrendered Estonian troops regardless of their intentions. In what the veterans of the Estonian Division who had laid their weapons down in May 1945 recall as the 'Czech Hell', the local people chased, humiliated and tortured the Waffen SS troopers and murdered more than 500 Estonian POWs.[11][12][13] Some of the Estonians who had reached the western allies were handed back to the Soviets.[10]


Guard duty during the Nuremberg Trials

Former legionnaires, wearing black uniforms with blue helmets and white belts, guarding Hermann Goering, Rudolf Hess, and other top Nazis during the Nuremberg Trials

In the spring of 1946, out of the ranks of those who had surrendered to the Western allies in the previous year, a total of nine companies were formed. The most notable being the "4221 Guard Company", formed from some 300 veterans with a mission to guard the external perimeter of Nuremberg International Tribunal courthouse and the various depots and residences of US officers and prosecutors connected with the trial. The men were also entrusted with guarding the accused Nazi war criminals held in prison during the trial up until the day of execution. [14][10]

Created on 26 December 1946, and led by Captain Vaido Viitre, the company consisted of 6 armed platoons and one staff platoon. Each platoon consisted of 4 squads, totalling 40 men; the staff platoon - medics, supplymen, cooks, carpenters, drivers, mechanics and secretaries, of 30 men.

Outcome of Nuremberg Trials

The Nuremberg Trials, in declaring the Waffen SS a criminal organization, explicitly excluded conscripts in the following terms:

Tribunal declares to be criminal within the meaning of the Charter the group composed of those persons who had been officially accepted as members of the SS as enumerated in the preceding paragraph who became or remained members of the organization with knowledge that it was being used for the commission of acts declared criminal by Article 6 of the Charter or who were personally implicated as members of the organization in the commission of such crimes, excluding, however, those who were drafted into membership by the State in such a way as to give them no choice in the matter, and who had committed no such crimes.[15].

Position of the US Displaced Persons Commission

In 13 April, 1950, a message from the U.S. High Commission in Germany (HICOG), signed by John J. McCloy to the Secretary of State, clarified the US position on the "Baltic Legions:" they were not to be seen as "movements," "volunteer," or "SS." In short, they had not been given the training, indoctrination, and induction normally given to SS members.[16] Subsequently the US Displaced Persons Commission in September 1950 declared that:

The Baltic Waffen SS Units (Baltic Legions) are to be considered as separate and distinct in purpose, ideology, activities, and qualifications for membership from the German SS, and therefore the Commission holds them not to be a movement hostile to the Government of the United States.

Modern controversy

In 2002, the Estonian government forced the removal of a monument to the division erected near the Estonian city of Pärnu. The inscription To Estonian men who fought in 1940-1945 against Bolshevism and for the restoration of Estonian independence. was the cause of the controversy. In 2004 the monument was reopened in Lihula but shortly after removed again because of the Estonian government opposed the opening. On 15 October 2005 the monument was finally opened in grounds of private museum located in Lagedi near Estonian capital Tallinn (See Monument of Lihula.)

On 22 May, 2004, the Jerusalem Post ran a story about the plans of some Estonian individuals to build a monument to the 20.Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS. International outrage followed, due to the criminal status of the non-conscript Waffen-SS, after the Nuremberg Trials. One of Russia's chief Rabbis, Berl Lazar, condemned the action, stating it would breed anti-Semitism.

On 28 July, 2007, gathering of some 300 veterans of 20th Waffen-Grenadier-Division and of other units of Wehrmacht, including a few Waffen SS veterans from Austria and Norway, took place in Sinimäe, where the battle between German and Soviet armies had been particularly fierce in summer of 1944. This gathering takes place every year, and have had veterans from Estonia, Norway, Denmark, Austria and Germany visiting. [17].

According to Andrew Mollo, a British authority on the SS the Estonian SS were very different from other SS units: Estonia had been occupied by the Red Army in 1940, the Estonians fought for the independence of their country and were brought under the SS umbrella against their will. [18]


  • SS-Brigadeführer Franz Augsberger (January 1944 - 19 March 1945)
  • SS-Brigadeführer Berthold Maack (20 March 1945 - 8 May 1945)

Orders of Battle

  • Waffen-Grenadier Regiment der SS 47 (estnische nr. 3) SS-Obersturmbannführer Paul Vent
    • 1st Battalion – SS-Sturmbannführer Georg Sooden. The battalion was based on the 659th Ost battalion.
    • 2nd Battalion – SS-Hauptsturmführer Alfons Rebane. The battalion was based on the 658th Eastern Battalion .
    • 3rd Battalion – SS-Hauptsturmführer Eduard Hints. Formed from mobilized men and was at this moment just arriving to the front.
  • Waffen-Artillery Regiment der SS 20 - SS-Obersturmbannführer Aleksandr Sobolev.
  • SS-Waffen Füsilier Battalion 20 - SS-Hauptsturmführer Wallner,SS-Obersturmbannführer Oskar Ruut,SS-Hauptsturmführer Hando Ruus
  • SS-Waffen Pionier Battalion 20
  • SS-Field Medical Battalion 20
  • SS-Waffen Signals Battalion 20
  • SS-Training and Reserve Regiment 20

See also


  1. ^ In Estonia, the pre-war Prime minister Uluots switched his stand on mobilization in February 1944 when the Soviet Army reached the Estonian border. At the time the Estonian units under German control had about 14,000 men. Counting on a German debacle, Uluots considered it imperative to have large numbers of Estonians armed, through any means...Uluots even managed to tell it to the nation through the German-controlled radio: Estonian troops on Estonian soli have " a significance much wider than what I could and would be able to disclose here". The nation understood and responded. 38,000 registered ..Six border-defense regiments were formed, headed by Estonian officers, and the SS Division received reinforcements, bringing the total of Estonian units up to 50,000 or 60,00 men. During the whole period at least 70,000 Estonian joined the German army, more than 10,000 may have died in action...about 10,000 reached the West after the war ended.[5]
  1. ^ Five Years of Dates at Time magazine on Monday, 24 Jun. 1940
  2. ^ Estonia: Identity and Independence by Jean-Jacques Subrenat, David Cousins, Alexander Harding, Richard C. Waterhouse ISBN 9042008903
  3. ^ mobilisation in Estonia at
  4. ^ Jüri Uluots at
  5. ^ Misiunas, p. 60
  6. ^ Jurado, p 13
  7. ^ Jurado, pp 14-15
  8. ^ "1940–1992. Soviet era and the restoration of independence". History Estonica.  
  9. ^ "Waffen SS". Jewish Virtual Library.  
  10. ^ a b c Mart Laar, Eesti Leegion sonas ja pildis, Grenader Grupp , 2008, ISBN 9789949422616
  11. ^ (Estonian) Karl Gailit (1995). Eesti sõdur sõjatules. (Estonian Soldier in Warfare.) Estonian Academy of National Defense Press, Tallinn
  12. ^ Estonian State Commission on Examination of Policies of Repression (2005). "Human Losses". The White Book: Losses inflicted on the Estonian nation by occupation regimes. 1940 – 1991. Estonian Encyclopedia Publishers. p. 32.  
  13. ^ Toomas Hiio, Peeter Kaasik (1999). "Estonian units in the Waffen-SS". in Toomas Hiio, Meelis Maripuu, & Indrek Paavle. Estonia 1940–1945: Reports of the Estonian International Commission for the Investigation of Crimes Against Humanity. Tallinn. pp. 927–968.  
  14. ^ "Esprits de corps - Nuremberg Tribunal Guard Co. 4221 marks 56th anniversary". Eesti Elu.  
  15. ^ Nuremberg Trial Proceedings, Volume 22, September 1946
  16. ^ Mirdza Kate Baltais, The Latvian Legion in documents, Amber Printers & Publishers (1999), p104
  17. ^ Official Estonia, Latvia Call Up Waffen SS Vets
  18. ^ Holdsworth, Nick (26 December 2008). "Russians protest at Estonia SS calendar". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 4 January 2009.  


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