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Coordinates: 59°26′N 24°44′E / 59.433°N 24.733°E / 59.433; 24.733

Tallinn Offensive
Part of Eastern Front (World War II)
WW2 - Liberation of Soviet Baltic, 1944, july-november (detailed).jpg
A Soviet map of the operation.
Date 17–26 September 1944
Location Estonia
Result Soviet victory
Belligerents
 Germany
 Soviet Union  Estonia
Commanders
Nazi Germany Ferdinand Schörner Soviet Union Leonid Govorov Estonia Johan Pitka
Strength
50,000[1] 195,000[2] in hundreds

The Tallinn Offensive (Russian: Таллинская наступательная операция) was the Soviet strategic offensive operation that captured mainland Estonia in the Eastern Front in 17–26 September 1944. The offensive corresponded to the German abandonment of mainland Estonia codenamed Operation "Aster" (German: Unternehmen "Aster").

The left flank of the Soviet Leningrad Front and the Baltic Fleet aimed at the capture of Estonia and its capital Tallinn from the German army detachment "Narwa" and the pro-independence Estonian units. The Soviet offensive commenced with the Soviet 2nd Shock Army breaching the defence of the II Army Corps along the Emajõgi River in the vicinity of Tartu. The defence decelerated the Soviet advance enough for the "Narwa" to be evacuated from mainland Estonia. On 18 September, the small forces of the constitutional Government of Estonia attacked the German forces in Tallinn, capturing the government buildings from them. By 22 September, the city was abandoned by the German forces. Several groups of Estonian troopers commanded by Rear Admiral Johan Pitka attacked the Soviet troops in the defence of the constitutional Government. The Soviet 8th Estonian Rifle Corps broke through the defence, seized Tallinn on 22 September, and the rest of mainland Estonia by 26 September 1944.

Contents

Prelude

Attacks of the Leningrad Front had pushed the Army Group North to the west of Lake Peipus resulting in a series of operations around Narva. In the south, Soviet forces had advanced towards the Baltic Sea coast at the end of their Operation Bagration of June-August 1944 against the German Army Group Centre. The Soviet Tallinn Offensive was designed as a part of the Baltic Offensive to finally eliminate Army Group North's positions along the Baltic coastline.

To secure its overweight, the Stavka relocated the 2nd Shock Army from the Narva front to the Emajõgi. Fulfilling a complicated logistical task, the units of the shock army started to move on September 5, 1944. The Stavka gave an order to the 25th River Boat Brigade and engineer troops to transport the units over Lake Peipus. Five crossings were built from the Russian settlement of Pnevo across Lämmijärv, the 2 km wide part of Lake Peipus to the Estonian village of Mehikoorma. Forty six vessels kept working 24 hours a day. 135,000 troops, 13,200 horses, 9,100 lorries, 2,183 artillery, and 8,300 tons of ammunition crossed the lake.[3] The Luftwaffe units observed the relocation passively.[4] The 2nd Shock Army acquired command over the Emajõgi front from the 3rd Baltic Front on September 11, 1944.[3]

The three Soviet Baltic Fronts launched their Riga Offensive Operation on 14 September along the entire length of the German 18th Army front segment stretching from Madona town in Latvia to the mouth of the Väike Emajõgi river.[1] In the Estonian segment from Valga railway junction to Lake Võrtsjärv, the Soviet 3rd Baltic Front attacked the German XXVIII Army Corps.[1][5] In fierce battles, the German and Estonian units held their positions and secured the 18th Army and the army detachment "Narwa" from getting encircled in Estonia.[5]

Comparison of forces

By the beginning of the Tallinn Offensive on 17 September at the Emajõgi front, the II German Army Corps was down sized to a modest division being 4,600 men[6][7] while defending against the 140,000 men of the elite 2nd Shock Army.[7] While the II Army Corps had practically no armoured forces, the 3rd Baltic Front deployed 300 armoured vehicles. Along the 90 kilometres front line, the Red Army placed 2,569 artillery, being 137 artillery per kilometre against a practically non-existent German artillery.[8] Against the Soviet 8th Army at the Narva front stood the III SS (Germanic) Panzer Corps. Various pro-democracy Estonian troops formed from the men deserted from 20th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (1st Estonian), Finnish Infantry Regiment 200, Omakaitse civil defence, Estonian Border Defence, and Estonian Police.[5]

Operations

The offensive of the 3rd Baltic Front commenced in the eastern vicinity of Tartu in the early morning of 17 September. After the German II Army Corps had received an artillery barrage of 132,500 shells and grenades, three vanguard rifle corps crossed the Emajõgi river in the 25 km long front segment and went on offensive with armoured and air support. The defence of the II Army Corps was breached. The 2nd Shock Army forced its way through the German divisional headquarters and artillery positions, killing several superior officers. Only Kampfgruppe Rebane placed near Tartu held their front segment,[5] operating out of the siege in heavy losses.[8] Army detachment "Narwa" and the XXVIII, the northernmost elements of the Army Group North were at risk of getting encircled and destroyed.[1] Schörner ordered the II Army Corps to abandon the defence of the Emajõgi and to move quickly around the northern tip of Lake Võrtsjärv to Latvia.[5]

The defence decelerated the 3rd Baltic front enough for the "Narwa" to escape from Estonia in an operation codenamed Aster. A naval force under Vice-Admiral Theodor Burchardi began evacuating elements of the German formations along with some civilians on 17 September.[9] The headquarters prepared a detailed plan to leave the positions at the Narva front on the night before 19 September. The III (Germanic) SS Panzer Corps and the 11th Infantry Division abandoned their positions unbeknownst to the Soviet 8th Army. The Soviet forces began advancing in the early morning.[5] Within six days, around 50,000 troops, 20,000 civilians and 1,000 prisoners of war had been removed from Estonia.[9] The remaining elements of the Army Group North withdrew to Latvia. As the exception, the Estonian 113th Security Regiment, 2nd Border Defence Regiment, and remnants of the 20th Waffen SS Division retreating from the most distant part of the Narva front in the Krivasoo swamp were blocked by the 8th Estonian Rifle Corps and destroyed in the battles of Porkuni and Avinurme, 20 and 21 September.[8] In the battles, the Estonians of the Soviet rifle corps murdered their compatriots, which had been taken prisoner in Porkuni, and the wounded sheltering in the Avinurme Parish church.[5][8]
On 18 September, 1944, the provisional Government, formed by the National Committee of the Republic of Estonia in Tallinn, re-declared independence of Estonia.[10] The Estonian military units clashed with the German troops in Tallinn, seizing the state offices in Toompea. The Government appealed to the Soviet Union to recognize the independence of the republic.[11]

By the time of the arrival of the advance 8th Rifle Corps units to Tallinn on early 22 September, the town was practically abandoned by the German troops, with the last of them getting loaded on the ships in the dock. The streets of the city were empty.[8] The Government of Estonia had failed to concentrate the Estonian soldiers retreating from the Narva and Emajõgi fronts, as the units were scattered and mixed with the German detachments withdrawing towards Latvia.[8] Therefore, the Government lacked significant military forces to repulse the Soviet forces concentrated around Tallinn. The units securing the national capital and the Government were led by Rear Admiral Johan Pitka.[12] 20–30 Estonian troops deserted from various German and Estonian military and auxiliary units set up defensive positions in Vaskjala, 15 kilometres south east of Tallinn.[8] Troops of the 8th Estonian Rifle Corps broke through these defences and seized Tallinn on 22 September. Jüri Uluots acting in the duties of President of Estonia evacuated to Sweden.[13] On the following days, several pro-democracy Estonian battle groups attacked the Soviet troops in Harju and Lääne counties without success.[5]

Aftermath

The 8th Army went on to take the remaining islands off the Estonian coast in the Moonsund Landing Operation, an amphibious attack.[5] The Baltic Offensive resulted in the expulsion of German forces from Estonia, Lithuania and a large part of Latvia.

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Forest Brothers

The German command had released thousands of native Estonian conscripts from military service. The Soviet command began conscripting Baltic natives as areas were brought under its control.[14] While some ended up serving on both sides, many hid in the woods to avoid conscription. The 1949 mass deportation of about 21,000 people broke the back of the 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. 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[15].

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.[16]

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.[17]

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.[18][19][20] 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.[21] In August 1994, the last Russian troops withdrew from Estonia.[22]

Footnotes

  1. ^ a b c d Mitchum, S. (2007). German Defeat in the East 1944 - 45. Stackpole. p. 150. 
  2. ^ G.F.Krivosheev (1997). Soviet casualties and combat losses in the twentieth century. London: Greenhill Books. http://lib.ru/MEMUARY/1939-1945/KRIWOSHEEW/poteri.txt. 
  3. ^ a b F.I.Paulman (1980) (in Russian). Ot Narvy do Syrve (From Narva to Sõrve). Tallinn: Eesti Raamat. pp. 123–125. 
  4. ^ Mart Laar. Tallinn: Varrak. p. 237. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i Toomas Hiio (1999). Combat in Estonia in 1944. In: 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. 1035–1094. 
  6. ^ Unpublished data from the Estonian Archive in Lakewood, NJ
  7. ^ a b Mart Laar. Tallinn: Varrak. p. 237. 
  8. ^ a b c d e f g Laar, Mart (2005). Estonia in World War II. Tallinn: Grenader. 
  9. ^ a b Mitcham, p.149
  10. ^ Frucht, Richard (2005). Eastern Europe. ABC-CLIO. p. 111. ISBN 1576078000. http://books.google.com/books?id=lVBB1a0rC70C&pg=PA111&dq. 
  11. ^ By Royal Institute of International Affairs. Information Dept. p. 825 Published 1945
  12. ^ Laar, Mart (1992). War in the Woods. Howells House. p. 251. ISBN 0929590082. http://books.google.com/books?id=YxfYHYaHsdoC&pg=PA251&dq. 
  13. ^ Taagepera, Rein (1993). The Baltic States, Years of Dependence, 1940-1990. University of California Press. p. 69. ISBN 0520082281. http://books.google.com/books?id=piLpC4EEtzQC&pg=PA69&dq. 
  14. ^ D. Muriyev, Preparations, Conduct of 1944 Baltic Operation Described, Military History Journal (USSR Report, Military affairs), 1984-9, page. 27
  15. ^ Laar, Mart. War in the Woods: Estonia's Struggle for Survival, 1944–1956. ISBN 0-929590-08-2
  16. ^ Frucht, Richard (2005). Eastern Europe: An Introduction to the People, Lands, and Culture. ABC-CLIO. 
  17. ^ Biographical Research in Eastern Europe: Altered Lives and Broken Biographies. Humphrey, Miller, Zdravomyslova ISBN 0754616576
  18. ^ Daniel Fried, Assistant Secretary of State at U.S Department of State
  19. ^ The Baltic States and their Region: New Europe or Old? by David J. Smith on Page 48 ISBN 9042016663
  20. ^ Post-Cold War Identity Politics: Northern and Baltic Experiences by Marko Lehti on Page 272. ISBN 0714683515
  21. ^ Diplomats Without a Country: Baltic Diplomacy, International Law, and the Cold War by James T. McHugh , James S. Pacy, Page 2. ISBN 0313318786
  22. ^ Baltic Military District globalsecurity.org

References

  • Glantz, D. Soviet Military Deception in the Second World War, Frank Cass, London, 1989, ISBN 0-7146-3347-X
  • Mitcham, S. German Defeat in the East 1944 - 45, Stackpole, 2007, ISBN 0811733718
  • Vercamer, A. Naval war in the Baltic, article accessed 18/04/08

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