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Battle of Narva
Part of Eastern Front (World War II)
Narva jõgi 1999.jpg
Narva River: Hermann Castle on the Estonian bank (left) facing its Russian counterpart fortress of Ivangorod
Date 2 February – 10 August 1944
Location Narva, Estonia
59°23′N 28°12′E / 59.383°N 28.2°E / 59.383; 28.2Coordinates: 59°23′N 28°12′E / 59.383°N 28.2°E / 59.383; 28.2
Result German defensive victory
Nazi Germany Germany
Soviet Union Soviet Union
Nazi Germany Johannes Frießner Soviet Union Leonid Govorov
123,541 personnel[1]
32 tanks[2]
137 aircraft[1]
200,000 personnel[2][3]
2500 assault guns
100 tanks[4]
800 aircraft[1]
Casualties and losses
14,000 dead or missing
54,000 wounded or sick
Manyfold higher than those of German forces[nb 1]
300 tanks
230 aircraft[2]
  1. ^ Estonian historian Mart Laar in his book Sinimäed 1944: II maailmasõja lahingud Kirde-Eestis (Sinimäed Hills 1944: Battles of World War II in Northeast Estonia) has presented an indirect account of Soviet casualties for the battles on the Narva Isthmus, 2 February – 10 August 1944. According to the data of the Stavka, the total casualties of the Leningrad Front in 1944 were 665,827 men, 145,102 of them dead or missing. The share of the battles around Narva is unknown but considering the length of the operation, Laar accounts roughly half of the documented 56,564 dead or missing and the 170,876 wounded or sick in the Leningrad-Novgorod Offensive for the Battle of Narva. This is in accordance with the estimation of the Soviet researcher F.I. Paulman, stating in his Ot Narvy do Syrve (From Narva to Sõrve) that the 2nd Shock Army lost over 30,000 troops in the Narva bridgeheads during February. Deducting the losses in the operations of the Leningrad-Novgorod Offensive conducted elsewhere, the casualties in the battles in Finland, and in the Baltic Offensive, Laar totals the numbers of Soviet losses in the Battle of Narva at approximately 100,000 dead or missing and 380,000 wounded or sick. The "cost of nearly 500,000 men" is confirmed in the book Battle in the Baltics 1944-1945: the fighting for Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia: a photographic history by the British historian Ian Baxter.

The Battle of Narva[nb 1] was a military campaign between the German army detachment "Narwa" and the Soviet Leningrad Front fought for the strategically important Narva Isthmus in 2 February – 10 August 1944.

The campaign took place in the northern section of the Eastern Front and consisted of two major phases: the Battle for Narva Bridgehead[5] and the Battle of Tannenberg Line.[6] The Soviet Kingisepp–Gdov Offensive, Narva Offensives (15–28 February, 1–4 March, and 18–24 March) were part of the Winter Spring Campaign of 1944.[7] Following Joseph Stalin's 'Broad Front' strategy, these coincided with the Dnieper–Carpathian Offensive.[7]

As a continuation of the Leningrad–Novgorod Offensive in January 1944, the Soviet Estonian Operation pushed the front westward to the Narva River, aiming to destroy the army detachment "Narwa"and to thrust deep into Estonia. The Soviet units established a number of bridgeheads on the opposite bank in February. Subsequent attempts failed to expand. German counter attacks annihilated the bridgeheads to the north of Narva and reduced the bridgehead south of the town stabilizing the front until July 1944.

The Soviet Narva Offensive (July 1944) and the follow-on Battle of Tannenberg Line were part of the Soviet Summer Autumn Campaign of 1944, coinciding with the Lvov–Sandomierz Offensive. The Narva Offensive captured the city and forced the German forces to retreat to their prepared Tannenberg Defence Line in the hills of Sinimäed 16 kilometres from Narva. In ensuing fierce Battle of Tannenberg Line, the German army group held the line.

Stalin's main strategic goal — a quick occupation of Estonia as a base for air- and seaborne attacks against Finland and an invasion to East Prussia — was not achieved. As a result of the lengthy German defence, the Soviet war effort in the Baltic Sea region was hampered for seven and a half months.

A number of foreign volunteers and the local Estonian conscripts participated in the battle as part of German forces. By giving its support to the German illegal conscription call, the Estonian resistance movement had hoped to recreate a national army and restore the independence of the country.





Terrain played a significant role in operations around Narva. The elevation above sea level rarely rises above 100 meters by Narva, and the land is cut by numerous waterways including the Narva and Plyussa Rivers. The bulk of the land in the region is forested and large swamps inundate areas of low elevation. The effect of the terrain on operations was one of channelization; because of the swamps, only certain areas were suitable for large-scale troop movement.[1]

On a strategic scale, a natural choke point was present between the northern shore of Lake Peipus and the Gulf of Finland. The 45 kilometres wide strip of land is entirely bisected by the Narva River as well as having large areas of wilderness. The primary transportation routes, Narva–Tallinn Highway and Narva–Tallinn Railway, run on an east-west axis near and parallel to the coastline. There are no other east-west transportation routes capable of sustaining troop movement on a large scale in the region.[1]

Terrain in the Narva Isthmus, dominated by water and forests.

Preceding actions

On 14 January 1944, the Leningrad Front launched the Krasnoye Selo – Ropsha Offensive aimed at forcing the German 18th Army back from its positions near Oranienbaum. On the third day of the offensive, the Soviets broke through German lines and pushed westward. The German Army Group North evacuated the civilian population of Narva.[8]

Soviet aims

By 1944 it was fairly routine practice for the Stavka to assign its operating fronts new and more ambitious missions while the Soviet Armed Forces were conducting major offensive operations. The Stavka justified the practice on the grounds of a need for relentless pressure for a possible German collapse. For the 1943/1944 winter campaign, Stalin ordered the Red Army to conduct major offensives along the entire Soviet-German front in a continuation of the 'Broad Front' strategy he had pursued since the beginning of the war. This was applied in consonance with his long-standing rationale that, if the Red Army applied pressure along the entire front, German defences were likely to break in at least one section. The Soviet winter campaign included major assaults across the entire expanse the front in the Ukraine, Belorussia and against the German Panther Line in the region of the Baltic Sea.[7]

Breaking through the Narva Isthmus situated between the Gulf of Finland and Lake Peipus was of major strategic importance to the Soviet Armed Forces. The success of the Estonian Operation would have provided unobstructed advance along the coast to Tallinn, forcing the Army Group North to escape from Estonia for fear of getting besieged. For the Baltic Fleet trapped in an eastern bay of the Gulf of Finland, Tallinn was the closest exit to the Baltic Sea.[1] The ejection of the Army Group North from Estonia would have made Finland subject to air and amphibious attacks originating from Estonian bases. The perspective of an invasion to East Prussia through Estonia[9] appealed even more to the Stavka, as it appeared bringing German resistance to a collapse.[10] In the participation of Leonid Govorov, commander of the Leningrad Front, and Vladimir Tributz, commander of the Baltic Fleet, a scheme was prepared to destroy the Army Group North.[10][11] Stalin ordered the capture of Narva at all costs no later than 17 February:[12]

"It is mandatory that our forces seize Narva no later than 17 February 1944. This is required both for military as well as political reasons. It is the most important thing right now. I demand that you undertake all necessary measures to liberate Narva no later than the period indicated. (signed) I. Stalin"

After the failure of the Leningrad Front to fulfil the order, Stalin gave a new order on 22 February: to break through the army detachment "Narwa" defence, give a shock at the South-Estonian port of Pärnu and cut out the German forces in Estonia, direct two armies at South-East Estonia, keep going through Latvia and open the road to East Prussia and Central Europe. On 22 February, as the Soviet offensive had been stalled for three weeks, the Soviet Union presented Finland with peace conditions.[12] While Finland regarded the terms as unacceptable, the war waging around them appeared dangerous enough to keep negotiating. To push Finland into the unfavourable peace conditions, Stalin needed to take Estonia.[9] Stalin's wish was an order to the commanders of Leningrad Front, with their heads at stake.[13] After reinforcements, Narva front acquired the highest concentration of forces on the Eastern Front in March 1944.[14] By July 1944, a detailed plan was prepared of the Soviet advance to Tallinn.[15]

Soviet deployments

Situation around Narva, March 1944.

Three Soviet armies were deployed at the maximum concentration of forces in March 1944. The 2nd Shock Army was placed in the sector against Narva and north of it, the 59th Army south of Narva, and the 8th Army south of the 59th Army along the 50 km long Narva river stretching down to Lake Peipus. Detailed information on the size of the Soviet forces at the Narva front during the Winter-Spring campaign has not been published by any sources. It is impossible to give an overview on the Soviet strength until the Red Army archival information will be made available to non-Russian investigators or published.[1] Estonian historian Hannes Walter has estimated the number of Soviet troops in the Battle of Narva at 205,000[3] which is in accordance with the number of divisions multiplied by the assumed sizes of the divisions presented by the Estonian historian Mart Laar which account for roughly 200,000 troops.[2] The order of battle of the Leningrad Front as of 1 March 1944:[16]

  • 2nd Shock Army - Lieutenant General Ivan Fedyuninsky
    • 43rd Rifle Corps - Major General Anatoli Andreyev
    • 109th Rifle Corps - Major General Ivan Alferov
    • 124th Rifle Corps - Major General Voldemar Damberg
  • 8th Army - Lieutenant General Filip Starikov
    • 6th Rifle Corps - Major General Semyon Mikulski
    • 112th Rifle Corps - Major General Filip Solovev
  • 59th Army - Lieutenant General Ivan Korvnikov
    • 117th Rifle Corps - Major General Vasili Trubachev
    • 122nd Rifle Corps - Major General Panteleimon Zaitsev

Separate detachments:

  • 8th Estonian Rifle Corps - Lieutenant General Lembit Pärn[17]
  • 14th Rifle Corps - Major General Pavel Artyushenko
  • 124th Rifle Division - Colonel Mikhail Papchenko
  • 30th Guards Rifle Corps - Lieutenant General Nikolai Simonyak
  • 46th, 260th and 261st Separate Guards Heavy Tank and 1902nd Separate Self-propelled Artillery regiments[18]
  • 3rd Breakthrough Artillery Corps - Major General N. N. Zhdanov
  • 3rd Guards Tank Corps - Major General I. A. Vovchenko

At the start of the Narva Offensive (July 1944), the Leningrad Front deployed 136,830 troops,[19] 150 tanks, 2,500 assault guns, and 800+ aircraft[2]

German and Finnish aims

The Oberkommando des Heeres believed it was crucial to stabilize the front on the Narva River. A Soviet breakthrough here would have meant the loss of the northern coast of Estonia, with it the loss of control of the Gulf of Finland and thus given the Soviet Baltic Fleet access to the Baltic Sea.[1] As Colonel General Georg Lindemann said in his daily order to the 11th Infantry Division:[20]

We are standing on the border of our native land. Every step backwards will carry the war through the air and water to Germany.

As Finland was negotiating with the Soviet Union for peace, the Oberkommando des Heeres paid attention to the Narva Front, using every means to convince the Finnish Defence Command that their defence was going to hold. The German command informed their Finnish colleagues in detail about the events on the Narva Front while a delegation of the Finnish Defence Command visited Narva in Spring 1944.[2]

A breakthrough to the Baltic Sea would also have threatened the German control of the entire Baltic Sea and the iron ore imports from Sweden. Additionally the loss of Narva would have meant fuel derived from the adjacent Kohtla-Järve oil shale deposits (32 kilometers west of Narva on the coast) would be denied to the German war machine.[1] Besides being a narrow corridor well suited for defence, the terrain in the area of Narva was dominated by forests and swamps. Directly behind the Narva River lay the city itself, ideally positioned as a bastion from which defending forces could influence combat to both the north and south of the city along the river valley.[1]

This position known as the northern segment of Panther Line was where Generalfeldmarschall Georg von Küchler in charge of the army group wanted to set up his defence. Hitler initially refused, and replaced von Küchler with Generalfeldmarschall Walter Model as the commander of the Army Group North. Model agreed with von Küchler, however, being one of Hitler's favourites, he also was allowed more freedom by Hitler. Using this freedom to his advantage, Model managed to fall back and begin establishing a line along the Narva River with a strong bridgehead on the eastern bank in Ivangorod. This appeased Hitler and also followed the German standard operating procedure for defending a river line. Subsequently on 1 February 1944, the High Command of Army Group North tasked the Sponheimer Group (renamed army detachment "Narwa" on February 23) to defend the Panther Line in the isthmus between the Gulf of Finland and Lake Peipus at all costs.[1]

After the initial Soviet success, President of Finland was presented with Stalin's peace terms on 8 February 1944. With the tactical success of the army detachment "Narwa" from mid-February to April, Finland terminated the negotiations on 18 April 1944.[21][2]

Aims of Estonian resistance movement

The September 18, 1944 proclamation of Government of Estonia in Riigi Teataja (Government gazette)

During the course of Nazi German occupation, Estonian expectations of regaining their independence began to diminish. Pursuant to the Constitution of Estonia formally still in force, Estonian politicians formed an underground National Committee of the Republic of Estonia which convened on 14 February 1944. As President Konstantin Päts was currently imprisoned by the Soviet authorities, the acting head of state according to the Constitution was last Prime Minister Jüri Uluots. The German-appointed Estonian Self-Administration had previously attempted several unsuccessful general mobilisation calls which were illegal under the Hague Conventions (1899 and 1907) and opposed by Uluots.[22][23] In February 1944 when the Leningrad Front reached the vicinity of Narva and a new Soviet occupation became a real threat, Uluots switched his stand on the German draft. In his radio speech on 7 February, Uluots reasoned that armed Estonians could become useful against both Germans and Soviets. He also hinted that Estonian troops on Estonian soil would have: "... a significance much wider than what I could and would be able to disclose here."[24]. Along with other Estonian politicians, Uluots saw the fighting against the Soviet Armed Forces as a means of preventing a new Soviet occupation and restoring Estonia’s independence once the war was over.[25] The conscription call was received with popular support and the mobilisation brought together 38,000 men[26] which were formed into seven border guard regiments and the fictively named[8] the 20th Estonian SS-Volunteer Division,[27][28] commonly referred to among the German Armed Forces as the Estonian Division.[13] Added the Estonian Finnish Infantry Regiment 200 within the ranks of the Finnish Army, the Estonian volunteers within the Waffen SS and the personnel conscripted earlier into the Wehrmacht returned to Estonia, a total of 70,000 Estonian troops were under Nazi German arms in 1944.[23]

Formation of army detachment "Narwa"

In February 1944, the L and LIV Army Corps along with the III (Germanic) SS Panzer Corps were on the left flank of the 18th Army as they retreated to Narva. On 4 February, the Sponheimer Group was released from the 18th Army and subordinated directly to the Army Group North. In support of the forces already in place, Hitler ordered reinforcements. The Panzer Corps Feldherrnhalle with over 10,000 troops and equipment was airlifted from Belorussia into Estonia via the airfield in Tartu on 1 February. A week later, the 5th Battalion of the Panzergrenadier Großdeutschland Division arrived on the front. The Grenadier Regiment Gnesen (an ad-hoc regiment formed from replacement army units in Poland) was sent from Germany and arrived on 11 February. Three days later, the 214th Infantry Division was transferred from Norway. Over the next two weeks various units were added to the group, including the 11th SS Volunteer Panzergrenadier Division "Nordland" as well as several divisions of the Wehrmacht, the Estonian Division, and local Estonian border guard and police battalions. Infantry General Otto Sponheimer was replaced with General Johannes Frießner and Sponheimer Group renamed army detachment "Narwa" on 23 February. The Army Group North ordered the deployment of the army detachment "Narwa" on February 22 in the following positions: III SS Panzer Corps deployed to Narva, Ivangorod Bridgehead on the east bank of the river and north of Narva; the XXXXIII Army Corps against the Krivasoo Bridgehead south of the city and the XXVI Army Corps to the sector between the Krivasoo and Lake Peipus. As of 1 March 1944, there were a total of 123,541 personnel subordinated to the army group in the following order of battle:[1]

Separate units:

  • Eastern Sector, Coastal Defence (Staff of 2nd Anti-Aircraft Division as HQ) - Lieutenant General Alfons Luczny

Other military units:

  • Artillery Command No. 113
  • High Pioneer Command No. 32
  • 502nd Heavy Tank Battalion
  • 752nd Anti-Tank Battalion
  • 540th Special Infantry (Training) Battalion

In the summer of 1944, the Panzergrenadier Division Feldherrnhalle and seven infantry divisions were removed from the Narva Front[2] leaving 22,250 troops on the location.[29]

Combat activity

Soviet map of the beginning of Estonian Operation, February – April 1944

Formation of bridgeheads

Launching the Kingisepp–Gdov Offensive on 1 February, the 2nd Shock Army's 109th Rifle Corps captured the town of Kingisepp on the first day.[12] The 18th Army was forced into its new positions on the eastern bank of the Narva River.[15] Forward units of the 2nd Shock Army crossed the river and established several bridgeheads on the west bank to the north and south of the city of Narva on 2 February. The 2nd Shock Army expanded the bridgehead in the Krivasoo Swamp south of Narva five days later temporally cutting Narva–Tallinn Railway behind the III SS Panzer Corps. Govorov was unable to take advantage of the opportunity of encircling the smaller German army group which called in reinforcements. These came mostly from the newly mobilised Estonians motivated to resist the looming Soviet re-occupation. At the same time, the Soviet 108th Rifle Corps landed units across Lake Peipus 120 kilometres south of Narva and established a bridgehead around the village of Meerapalu. By a coincidence, the I.Battalion, SS Volunteer Grenadier Regiment 45 (1st Estonian) headed for Narva reached the area. A battalion of the 44th Infantry Regiment (consisting in personnel from East Prussia), the I.Battalion, 1st Estonian and an air squadron destroyed the Soviet bridgehead on 15–16 February. The Mereküla Landing Operation was conducted as the 517-strong 260th Independent Naval Infantry Brigade landed at the coastal borough of Mereküla behind the Sponheimer Group lines. However, the unit was almost completely annihilated.[1][13]

Narva Offensives, 15–28 February and 1–4 March

The Soviet 30th Guards Rifle Corps and the 124th Rifle Corps launched a new Narva Offensive on 15 February.[7] In ferocious battles, units of the Sponheimer Group exhausted the Soviet army which halted its offensive. Both sides used the pause for bringing in additional forces. The fresh SS Volunteer Grenadier Regiments 45 and 46 (1st and 2nd Estonian) accompanied by units of the "Nordland" Division destroyed the Soviet bridgeheads north of Narva by 6 March. The newly arrived 59th Army attacked westwards from the Krivasoo Swamp and encircled the strong points of the 214th Infantry Division and Estonian 658th and 659th Eastern Battalions. The resistance of the encircled units gave the German command time to move in all available forces and to stop the 59th Army units' advance.[1][13]

6–24 March

The Soviet aviation conducted an air raid, leveling the historical town of Narva on 6 March. An air and artillery shock of 100,000 shells and grenades at the "Nordland" and "Nederland" detachments in Ivangorod prepared the 30th Guards Rifle Division's attack on 8 March. Simultaneous pitched battles took place north from the town, where the 14th Rifle Corps supported by the artillery of the 8th Estonian Rifle Corps attempted to re-establish a bridgehead. Regiments of the Estonian SS Division repulsed the attacks causing great losses for the Soviets.[1][13]

Soviet air assaults against civilians in Estonian towns were a part of the offensive, aiming to force the Estonians away from supporting the German side. The Soviet Long Range Aviation assaulted the Estonian capital Tallinn on the night before 9 March. Approximately 40% of the housing space was destroyed in the city, as 25,000 people were left without a shelter, and 500 civilians killed. The result of the air raid was the opposite to the Soviet aim as the people felt disgusted by the Soviet atrocities and more men answered the German conscription call.[1][13]

The Soviet tank attack at Auvere Station on 17 March, was stopped by a squadron of the 502nd Heavy Tank Battalion. The Narva Offensive (18–24 March 1944) continued for another week[7] until the Soviet forces had suffered enough casualties to switch over to defensive. This enabled the army detachment "Narwa" to take the initiative.[1][13]

Strachwitz offensive

The Strachwitz Battle Group annihilated the Soviet 8th Army shock troop wedge at the western end of the Krivasoo Bridgehead on 26 March. The German battle group destroyed the eastern tip of the bridgehead on 6 April. Generalmajor Hyazinth Strachwitz von Gross-Zauche und Camminetz, inspired by the success, tried to eliminate the whole bridgehead but was unable to proceed due to the spring thaw that had rendered the swamp impassable for the Tiger I tanks.[30] By the end of April, the parties had mutually exhausted their strengths. Relative calm settled on the front until late July, 1944.[1][13]

Narva Offensive, July 1944

The Soviet breakthrough in Belorussia made the Army Group North withdraw a large portion of their troops from Narva to the central part of the Eastern Front and to Finland. As there were no more sufficient forces for the defence of the former front line at Narva in July, the army group began preparations for its withdrawal to the Tannenberg Defence Line in the hills of Sinimäed 16 kilometres from Narva. While the command of the Leningrad Front was unaware of the preparations, they designed a new Narva Offensive. Shock troops from the Finnish Front were concentrated near Narva, giving the Leningrad Front a 4:1 superiority both in manpower and equipment. Before the German forces had implemented the plan, the Soviet 8th Army launched the offensive with its assault at Auvere Railway Station. The I.Battalion 1st Estonian and the 44th Infantry Regiment repulsed the attack inflicting heavy losses to the 8th Army. The "Nordland" and "Nederland" detachments in Ivangorod left their positions quietly on the night before 25 July. The evacuation was carried out according to Steiner's plans until the 2nd Shock Army resumed with the offensive in the morning of 25 July. Supported by 280,000 shells and grenades from 1360 assault guns, the army crossed the Narva River north of the town. The II.Battalion 1st Estonian Regiment kept the 2nd Shock Army from capturing the highway behind the retreating troops. The defensive operation cost the destruction of the SS Volunteer Panzergrenadier Regiment 48 "General Seyffardt" due to their tactical errors. The Soviet forces captured Narva on 26 July.[1][13]

Battle of Tannenberg Line

Battle of Tannenberg Line, 26–29 July 1944

The Soviet vanguard 201st and 256th Rifle Divisions attacked the Tannenberg Line and conquered a part of the Lastekodumägi the easternmost of the three hills. The Anti-Tank Company, SS Panzergrenadier Regiment 24 "Danmark" returned the hill to the hands of the army detachment "Narwa" at the following night. Subsequent attempts of the Soviet tanks to conquer the hills were repulsed by the III SS Panzer Corps on the following day. The SS Reconnaissance Battalion 11 and the I.Battalion, Waffen Grenadier Regiment 47 (3rd Estonian) ferocious counter attack at the night before 28 July subsequently collapsed under the Soviet tank fire while the Estonian battalion was destroyed. In a pitched battle carried into the next day without a break in fighting, the two Soviet armies forced the army detachment "Narwa" into its new positions at the central of the three hills the Grenaderimägi.[1][13]

The climax of the Battle of Tannenberg Line was the Soviet attack on 29 July. Shock units suppressed the German resistance on the Lastekodumägi, while the Soviet main forces suffered heavy casualties in the subsequent assault at the Grenaderimägi. The Soviet tanks encircled the Grenaderimägi and the westernmost hill Tornimägi. At the same time, Steiner sent out the remaining seven German tanks which hit the surprised Soviet armoured forces back. This enabled an improvised battle group consisting in personnel from different nationalities to launch a fierce counter attack led by Hauptsturmführer Paul Maitla which re-conquered the central Grenaderimägi to the hands of the multi-national unit in German uniforms. Of the 136,830 Soviets initiating the Narva Offensive in July, a few thousands had survived. The Soviet tank regiments had been demolished.[1][13]

With the aid of swift reinforcements, the two Soviet armies continued their attacks. The Stavka demanded the destruction of the army detachment "Narwa" and the capture of the town Rakvere by 7 August. The 2nd Shock Army was back to 20,000 troops by 2 August while their numerous attempts pursuing unchanged tactics failed to break the multinational defence of the army detachment "Narwa". Govorov terminated the Soviet offensive on 10 August.[1][13]


In the Soviet era, the losses in the battle of Narva were not mentioned in the Soviet sources.[2] In recent years, Russian authors have published some figures[10][31] but not for the whole course of the battles.[2] The number of Soviet casualties can only be estimated indirectly.[1][2]

The army detachment "Narwa" lost 23,963 personnel as dead, wounded and missing in action in February 1944.[29] During the following months until 30 July 1944, additional 34,159 German personnel were lost, 5,748 of them dead and 1,179 missing in action.[1] The total of the German casualties of the initial phase of the campaign was approximately 58,000 men, 12,000 of them dead or missing in action. In 24 July – 10 August 1944, the German forces buried 1709 men in Estonia.[2][32] Added the troops missing in action, the number of dead in the period is estimated at approximately 2,500. Accounting the standard ratio 1 / 4 of the irrecoverable losses to the wounded, the number of German casualties in the later period of the battle was approximately 10,000. The total of German casualties in the Battle of Narva is estimated at 14,000 dead or missing and 54,000 wounded or sick.[2]


Baltic Offensive

On 1 September, Finland announced cessation of military cooperation with Germany to sign armistice with the Soviet Union.[21] On 4 September, Finland opened access for the Soviets to the Finnish waters. With the Soviet offensive at Riga threatening to complete the encirclement, the Army Group North started preparations for the withdrawal of troops from Estonia in an operation codenamed Aster. The possible transportation corridors were thoroughly prepared on the map of the headquarters.[2][33] On 14 September, a provisional order to start the preparations for withdrawal was given to the "Nordland" Division.[34] On 17 September 1944, a naval force under Vice-Admiral Theodor Burchardi began evacuating elements of the German formations and Estonian civilians. Within six days, around 50,000 troops and 1,000 prisoners had been removed.[35] The elements of the 18th Army in Estonia were ordered to withdraw into Latvia.

The Soviet 1st, 2nd and 3rd Baltic Fronts launched their Baltic Offensive on 14 September. The operation was aimed at cutting off the Army Group North in Estonia. After much argument, Adolf Hitler agreed to allow the total evacuation of the troops in mainland Estonia. The 2nd Shock Army launched its Tallinn Offensive on 17 September from the Emajõgi River Front in South Estonia. At midnight before 19 September, the army detachment "Narwa" left its positions in the Tannenberg Line. The 8th Army reconaissance reported the evacuation five hours after it had been completed and started to chase it towards Estonian harbours and the Latvian border. The III SS Panzer Corps reached Pärnu by 20 September, while the II SS Corps retreated southwards to form the 18th Army's rearguard.[35] The Soviet armies advanced to take Tallinn on 22 September. The Soviets had demolished the harbour at Haapsalu by 24 September. The German panzer corps evacuating Vormsi Island just off the coast on the following day,[36] completing the evacuation of mainland Estonia which had passed with only minor casualties.[1]

The 8th Army went on to take the remaining West Estonian Archipelago in the Moonsund Landing Operation. The Baltic Offensive resulted in the expulsion of the German forces from Estonia, a large part of Latvia and Lithuania.

During the withdrawal from Estonia, the German command released thousands of native Estonian conscripts from military service. However, the Soviet command began conscripting Baltic natives as areas were brought under Soviet control.[37] While some ended up serving on both sides, thousands hid in the woods to avoid conscription.

Army Group North land lines of communication were permanently severed from Centre and it was relegated to the Courland Pocket, an occupied Baltic seashore area in Latvia. On 25 January, Adolf Hitler renamed North to Courland implicitly realising that there was no possibility of restoring a new land corridor between Courland and East Prussia.[38] The Red Army commenced the encirclement and reduction of the pocket enabling the Soviets to focus on operations towards East Prussia. The Army Group Courland retained a possibility of being a major threat. Operations by the Red Army against the Courland Pocket continued until the surrender of Army Group Courland on 9 May 1945, when close to 200,000 Germans were taken prisoner there.

Outcome for Finland

The lengthy German defence in the Battle of Narva denied a Soviet-occupied Estonia as a favorable base for amphibious invasions and air attacks against Helsinki and other Finnish cities. Hopes of the Stavka to assault Finland from Estonia and force it into capitulation were diminished. Finnish Chief of Defence Carl Gustav Emil Mannerheim repeatedly reminded the German side that in case their troops in Estonia retreated, Finland would be forced to make peace even on extremely unfavourable terms. Thus, the prolonged Battle of Narva helped Finland to avoid a Soviet occupation, sustain its capacity for resistance and enter the negotiations for the Moscow Armistice with her own terms.[4][10][12][13][29]

Attempt to restore Estonian Government

The lengthy German defence prevented a swift Soviet breakthrough into Estonia, which gave the underground National Committee of the Republic of Estonia enough time for an attempt to re-establish Estonian independence. On 1 August 1944, the national committee pronounced itself Estonia's highest authority and on 18 September 1944, acting head of state Uluots appointed a new government led by Otto Tief. Over the radio in English, the government declared its neutrality in the war. The government issued two editions of the Riigi Teataja (State Gazette) but did not have time to distribute them. On 21 September, the national forces seized the government buildings in Toompea, Tallinn and ordered the German forces to leave.[25][39] The flag of Estonia was hoisted in the tower of Pikk Hermann to be removed by the Soviets four days later. The Estonian Government in Exile served to carry the continuity of the Estonian state forward until 1992, when it handed its credentials over to the incoming President Lennart Meri.

Civilian refugees

The delay of Soviet advance allowed over 25,000 Estonians and 3,700 Swedes to flee to neutral Sweden and 6,000 Estonians to Finland. Thousands of refugee boats and ships sunk in the Baltic Sea.[23] In September, 90,000 soldiers and 85,000 Estonian, Finnish, German refugees, and Soviet prisoners of war were evacuated to Germany.[36] The sole German cost of this undertaking was the loss of a steamer. More German naval evacuations followed from Estonian ports,[36] where up to 1,200 people were drowned in Soviet attacks.[23]

Annexation of Estonia

The Soviet authorities reimposed the nationalisation policy of 1940, as well as the collectivisation of farms. Over 900,000 hectares were expropriated in the few years following 1944 while much of that land was given to new settlers from Russia or other locations in the Soviet Union. Rapid collectivisation began in 1946, followed in 1947 by a crackdown against kulak farmers. The repression started with taxation. Those who resisted the collectivisation were killed or deported. 95% of farms were expropriated by 1951.[40]

The 1949 mass deportation of about 21,000 people broke the back of the forest brother partisan movement. 6,600 gave themselves up in November 1949. Later on, the failure of the Hungarian uprising broke the morale of the 700 men still remaining under cover. According to Soviet data, up until 1953, 20,351 partisans were defeated and 1,510 perished in the battles. 1,728 members of the Red Army, NKVD and the militia were killed by the forest brothers. August Sabbe, the last surviving "brother" in Estonia, was discovered and killed by KGB agents in 1978[41].

Soviet prison doors on display in the Museum of Occupations, Tallinn, Estonia.

During the first post-war decade of Soviet annexation, Estonia was governed by Moscow via Russian-born Estonian governors. Born into the families of native Estonians in Russia, the latter had obtained their Red education in the Soviet Union during the Stalinist repressions at the end of the 1930s. Many of them had fought in the Red Army (in the Estonian Rifle Corps), few of them had mastered the Estonian language.[42]

Although the United States and the United Kingdom, the allies of the USSR against Germany during World War II, recognised the annexation of the Republic of Estonia by USSR at Yalta Conference in 1945 de facto, the governments of the Western world did not recognize the annexation of Estonia by the USSR in 1940 and in 1944 de jure according to the Sumner Welles' declaration of July 23, 1940.[43][44][45] Such countries recognized Estonian diplomats and consuls who still functioned in many countries in the name of their former governments. These aging diplomats persisted in this anomalous situation until the ultimate restoration of Estonia's independence in 1991.[46] In August 1994, the last Russian troops withdrew from Estonia.[47]

References and notes

  1. ^ Estonian: Narva lahing; German: Schlacht bei Narva; Russian: Битва за Нарву
  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y Toomas Hiio (1999). "Combat in Estonia in 1944". 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. 1035–1094. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Mart Laar (2006) (in Estonian). Sinimäed 1944: II maailmasõja lahingud Kirde-Eestis (Sinimäed Hills 1944: Battles of World War II in Northeast Estonia). Tallinn: Varrak. 
  3. ^ a b Hannes Walter. "Estonia in World War II". Mississippi: Historical Text Archive. 
  4. ^ a b F.I.Paulman (1980). "Nachalo osvobozhdeniya Sovetskoy Estoniy" (in Russian). Ot Narvy do Syrve (From Narva to Sõrve). Tallinn: Eesti Raamat. pp. 7–119. 
  5. ^ McTaggart, Pat "The Battle of Narva, 1944", pp. 294, 296, 297,299, 302, 305, 307
  6. ^ McTaggart, Pat "The Battle of Narva, 1944", p. 306
  7. ^ a b c d e David M. Glantz (2001). [ The Soviet-German War 1941-1945: Myths and Realities]. Glemson, South Carolina: Strom Thurmond Institute of Government and Public Affairs, Clemson University. 
  8. ^ a b Robert Sturdevant (10 February 1944). "Strange Guerilla Army Hampers Nazi Defence of Baltic". Times Daily (Florence, Alabama). 
  9. ^ a b Евгений Кривошеев; Николай Костин (1984). "I. Sraženie dlinoj v polgoda (Half a year of combat)" (in Russian). Битва за Нарву, февраль-сентябрь 1944 год (The Battle for Narva, February-September 1944). Tallinn: Eesti raamat. pp. 9–87. 
  10. ^ a b c d В.Бешанов (2004). Десять сталинских ударов (Ten Shocks of Stalin). Харвест, Minsk. 
  11. ^ Иван Иванович Федюнинский (1961). Поднятые по тревоге (Risen by Agitation). Воениздат, Moscow. 
  12. ^ a b c d David M. Glantz (2002). The Battle for Leningrad: 1941-1944. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas. 
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Laar, Mart (2005). "Battles in Estonia in 1944". Estonia in World War II. Tallinn: Grenader. pp. 32–59. 
  14. ^ L. Lentsman (1977) (in Estonian). Eesti rahvas Suures Isamaasõjas (Estonian People in Great Patriotic War). Tallinn: Eesti Raamat. 
  15. ^ a b Wilhelm Tieke (2001). Tragedy of the faithful: a history of the III. (germanisches) SS-Panzer-Korps. Winnipeg: J.J.Fedorowicz. 
  16. ^ Боевой состав Советской Армии на 1 марта 1944 г. (Order of battle of the Soviet Army on 1 March 1944)
  17. ^ 8th & 14th Rifle Corps may have been under the 42nd Army, but the source above does not list it as such.
  18. ^ Операция "Нева-2" chapter 6, Baranov, V.I., Armour and people, from a collection "Tankers in the combat for Leningrad"Lenizdat, 1987 (Баранов Виктор Ильич, Броня и люди, из сборника "Танкисты в сражении за Ленинград". Лениздат, 1987)
  19. ^ G.F.Krivosheev (1997). Soviet casualties and combat losses in the twentieth century. London: Greenhill Books. 
  20. ^ Gruppen-Befehl für den Küstenschutz. (Detachment Orders to the Coastal Defence. In German). February 9, 1944. Berlin Archives MA RH24-54/122
  21. ^ a b Chronology at the EIHC
  22. ^ Lauri Mälksoo (1999). "The Government of Otto Tief and Attempt to Restore the Independence of Estonia in 1944: A Legal Appraisal.". Toomas Hiio, Meelis Maripuu, Indrek Paavle (Eds.). Estonia 1940–1945: Reports of the Estonian International Commission for the Investigation of Crimes Against Humanity. Tallinn. pp. 1095–1106. 
  23. ^ a b c d 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. 
  24. ^ Taagepera pp. 70
  25. ^ a b "Year 1944 in Estonian History". Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 
  26. ^ Lande, D. A. (2000). Resistance!: Occupied Europe and Its Defiance of Hitler. MBI. p. 200. ISBN 9780760307458. 
  27. ^ "20. Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS (estnische Nr. 1)". Axis History Factbook. 
  28. ^ 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. 
  29. ^ a b c Steven H. Newton (1995). Retreat from Leningrad: Army Group North, 1944/1945. Atglen, Philadelphia: Schiffer Books. 
  30. ^ Otto Carius (2004). Tigers in the Mud: The Combat Career of German Panzer Commander Otto Carius. Stackpole Books. 
  31. ^ V. Rodin (October 5th, 2005) (in Russian)). Na vysotah Sinimyae: kak eto bylo na samom dele. (On the Heights of Sinimäed: How It Actually Was). Vesti. 
  32. ^ Unpublished data by the German War Graves Commission
  33. ^ Felix Steiner (1980). Die Freiwilligen der Waffen-SS: Idee und Opfergang (Volunteers of Armed SS. In German). Schütz, Oldendorf, Preuss
  34. ^ R. Landwehr (1981). Narva 1944. Bibliophile Legion Books, Silver Spring. 
  35. ^ a b Mitcham, S. German Defeat in the East 1944 - 45, Stackpole, 2007, p.149
  36. ^ a b c Arvo L. Vercamer. "Naval War in the Baltic Sea 1941-1945". 
  37. ^ D. Muriyev, Preparations, Conduct of 1944 Baltic Operation Described, Military History Journal (USSR Report, Military affairs), 1984-9, page. 27
  38. ^ On January 25, Hitler renamed three army groups: the North became the Courland; the Centre became the North and the A became Army Group Centre
  39. ^ Estonia. Sept.21 Bulletin of International News by Royal Institute of International Affairs Information Dept.
  40. ^ Frucht, Richard (2005). Eastern Europe: An Introduction to the People, Lands, and Culture. ABC-CLIO. 
  41. ^ Laar, Mart. War in the Woods: Estonia's Struggle for Survival, 1944–1956. ISBN 0-929590-08-2
  42. ^ Biographical Research in Eastern Europe: Altered Lives and Broken Biographies. Humphrey, Miller, Zdravomyslova ISBN 0754616576
  43. ^ Daniel Fried, Assistant Secretary of State at U.S Department of State
  44. ^ The Baltic States and their Region: New Europe or Old? by David J. Smith on Page 48 ISBN 9042016663
  45. ^ Post-Cold War Identity Politics: Northern and Baltic Experiences by Marko Lehti on Page 272. ISBN 0714683515
  46. ^ Diplomats Without a Country: Baltic Diplomacy, International Law, and the Cold War by James T. McHugh , James S. Pacy, Page 2. ISBN 0313318786
  47. ^ Baltic Military District


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