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Harald Riipalu
13 February 1912(1912-02-13) – 4 April 1961 (aged 49)
Place of birth St. Petersburg, Russia
Place of death Heckmondwike, Great Britain
Allegiance Estonia
Years of service 1935–1945
Rank Obersturmbannführer
Unit 1935, Narva Territorial Regiment
1940, Tartu Territorial Regiment
1941, Red Army 22nd Territorial Corps
1942, Wehrmacht 36th Defence Battalion
1944, 20th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (1st Estonian)
Battles/wars World War II
-- Eastern Front
--Battle of Tannenberg Line
--Battle of Auvere
Awards Iron Cross 2nd & 1st class
Infantry Assault Badge
Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross

Harald Riipalu (13 February 1912, St. Petersburg – 4 April 1961, Heckmondwike, Great Britain) was an Estonian military commander and one of four Estonian commanders who earned the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross when fighting in the German army in World War II.

Harald Riipalu was born in Saint Petersburg where his family was lessee in a manor. When World War I began, their family moved to Estonia, Saare parish near Kääpa river. He had four sisters, of which one died at the age of four. In 1920, after the Estonian War of Independence Riipalu started going to a small local parish school. In 1926 he went to study in Hugo Treffner Gymnasium in Tartu. He graduated from the high school in 1932, being among the best students in the school. Riipalu studied at the Faculty of Law of in the University of Tartu between 1932-33. He graduated from the Military Academy in 1935. On 22 December 1935 he married with Olvi Hain, the ceremony was carried out in Tartu Peetri Kirik. On 13 November 1936 their daughter Ede was born.

In 1933 he started his military career . Riipalu served in Narva, then assigned in January 1940 to the Defence League Tartu Territorial Regiment as a junior instructor.

After Soviet occupation of Estonia in 1940 he was mobilized to Red Army 22nd Territorial Corps and served there during 1940-1941.In 1941 he defected to the German side to fight against the Soviet Union and was held as a prisoner of war by the Germans until March 1942. From 1942 to 1943 he was a platoon leader and company commander of the 36th Defence Battalion, battalion commander from November 1942. 1943-1945 he served in the 3rd Estonian SS-Brigade and the 20th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS. He was the Commander of the 45th SS-Grenadier Regiment from April 1944. On 23 August 1944 he was decorated with the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross for his actions in the Battle of Tannenberg Line and in the Battle of Auvere where Riipalu and his regiment drove back the assault of the Red Army, which prevented the Red Army from encircling Army Group Narva. The award was handed out to him by Felix Steiner. After Germany had lost the war, many former Estonian soldiers who served in the 20th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS including Riipalu tried to prevent being captured by the Communists . From 1945 to 1948 he lived in Denmark, later he went to live in Great Britain . While being in exile in Great Britain, Riipalu suffered a heart failure and died in 1961, at the age of 49.



  • Harald Riipalu @
  • Fellgiebel, Walther-Peer. Die Träger des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939-1945. Friedburg, Germany: Podzun-Pallas, 2000. ISBN 3-7909-0284-5.


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