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German Armed Forces Research 1918-1945

Estonian Volunteers in the Wehrmacht in WWII

Estonians fought in the German Army against the Red Army in Russia and in the Ukraine since September 1941 (in the beginning so-called Sicherungsabteilungen no. 181-186, about 600-800 men in each, after on the base of these units autumn 1942 Ostbatallionen no. 658, 659 and 660 were reformed, also an independent East platoon no. 657 (former no. 13 of the Sicherungsabteilung no 184; each Abteilung has 4 Kompanie's, the enumeration began with the first of 181th and ended with them, probably 24th of the 186th; the number of the Kompanie's in the 186th is unknown me). Also, there were formed so-called Estonian Police-Battalions, no. 29-42). These units fought from December 1941 to January 1944 mostly at Volkhov Kessel and between Leningrad and Pskov, in the beginning against General Vlassovs Army. The men were volunteers with the contracts usually for one year. After this year a lot of them came back into a civil life, somebody began to study at the Tartu University (to begin the University studies a certificate about the participation in the struggle against the Soviet Union (in German Army or in Omakaitse) or in Arbeitsdienst or of the health conditions, which made the person unable to join the army or Arbeitsdienst was necessary. Fast all of them were mobilized again in 1943-1944.

The formation of the voluntary Estonian Legion was proclaimed on August 28, 1942 (exactly the year after the liberation of Tallinn). The place of formation was the so-called Heidelager, near Debica, Poland. The formation was not very successful in the beginning, while the Estonians hoped to join to the units commanded by Estonians, but the Estonian Legion was the SS-unit under the command of an Austrian, Franz Augsberger. In March 1943 about 2000 volunteers came. In 1943 800 men were given for the SS-Division "Wiking" (as Estonian battalion "Narwa"). On February 24, 1943, the hidden mobilization, officially the mobilization of the Arbeitsdienst and Hilfswilliger of the generations 1919-1924 was proclaimed. At 5300 men mobilized then about 5000 were sent to the Heidelager. The reformation of the Estonian Legion into the Estonian Brigade of the SS-volunteers (later no. 3) was announced in May 5, 1943. The Brigade fought since October 1943 by Newel, then against the partisans at Rossony, at the beginning of December 1943 the brigade was sent to the front and had great losses.

From October 26, 1943, about 70% of the 1925 generation were mobilized. 3300 of them were sent in November 1943 to the Heidelager for the Estonian Brigade. From December 10, 1943, the 1924 generation was mobilized. 900 of them were sent to Heidelager. On the men mobilized in October and December 1943 500 were sent for the "Wiking-Narwa". From August 1942 till January 1944 about 11 000 men joined voluntarily or were mobilized to the Estonian Brigade. 1300 (800+500) of them were sent for "Narwa. On December 31, 1943, the Estonian Brigade had 5099 men at the front, about 5000 men were in training camps or in the reserve. On January 24, 1944, the 3rd Estonian Brigade was denominated the 20th Estonian SS-volunteers Division (later the Grenadier-Division). The Division had, in the beginning, two regiments (45th and 46th), artillery and some smaller special units, in January or February 1944 on the base of the rests the former East Battalions, Batallion "Narwa" and some Police Battalions the 47th regiment was formed.

When at the beginning of the year 1944 the Red Army reached the borders of Estonia, a new mobilization of the generations 1904-1923 was proclaimed. The mobilizations in 1944 had also the support of the leaders of the Estonian national movement. With the first mobilization in 1944 38,000 men were mobilized. At these men, the seven border-defense regiments were formed. A lot of mobilized men were sent as an addition to the SS-Division. In May 1944 the Division had 5,000 men, on June 20, 1944, there were 13,423 men and on September 15, 1944 15,382 men. The last supplement for the Division in Estonia was the 1802 men of the Estonian Regiment (JR-200) of the Finnish Army, formed in 1943, who were sent back to Estonia shortly before the separate peace between Finland and Russia. The first Batallion of JR-200 was added to 47th regiment as the 3rd Batallion. The second Batallion of JR-200 stayed in the training near Tallinn. These men had fled to Finland in 1942-1943 to escape the mobilization into the German units. For these men the situation in August 1944 was different and they came back to fight for their homeland (only 10% or about 200 former soldiers of the JR 200 used the opportunity to stay in Finland and to go to Sweden later).

After leaving Estonia the Estonian Division was sent to Poland and reformed near Breslau (Wroclaw) in October 1944 on the base of Estonians, who had fled into Germany (soldiers and officers of very different Estonian units: Division regiments, some police battalions, border regiments, JR-200 men a. o.). Then there were about 10 000 men. They fought in Schlesien and Sudetenland till the end of the war. On the day of the capitulation of Germany the units of the 20th Estonian Division dislocated in the area of Tornov-Jelenia Gora North-East from Prague. The reserve units dislocated in North Germany and Denmark.

The battalion "Narwa" fought in Izyum, by Kursk and Harkow and finally in February 1944 by Korsun-Shevtshenkovsk. The battalion suffered hard losses and on April 1, 1944, there were only 100 men on the list of the battalion (probably some men were by this time already added to 20th Division). 36th Estonian police battalion has fought by Stalingrad.

Altogether about 70,000 Estonians fought in different German units (about 20,000 volunteers and 50,000 mobilized). On April 1, 1944, there were 52,000 Estonians in German units. The other Estonian units (except the SS-Division with about 5,000 men on the salary lists then) were: 7 Border-Defence-Regiments, 1st Estonian Reserve Regiment, 13 Police Battalions, 1 Special Batallion of SD, Jagdkommandos (612 men), 3 Custom-Border-Defence-Battalions, 4 Pionier-Battalions, Estonian Aviation Group, 2 Reserve Battalions, 3 East-Battalions and some smaller units. Of these men at all 20,000 were killed in action or died or were executed in Soviet prisoner-camps (some of them died in the war-prisoner camps of Czech partisans (in May 1945), later also of the United States, United Kingdom, and France). 5,000-6,000 of them were captured in Czechoslovakia by the English and American units, 2,500 by Soviet units. A lot of them were captured also in Estonia, in Courland, in Austria, Italy, France, and Norway. Some Estonians have fought even in units of General Rommel in Africa. Many former soldiers of the German Army (formally even deserters), stayed in Estonia in September 1944 and having belonged to the German Army was one of the most important reasons of arrests in 1944-1953. The men, who were not arrested, had great difficulties in matriculating to the universities or getting jobs where high professional education was needed, etc.

It is very hard to say something about the way of thinking of Estonian Waffen-SS volunteers or the mobilized. The majority of them believed that they were fighting for free Estonia. Of course, they were young men and for some of them the vulgar mysticism of SS, speeches about the ruling nordic race, Kameradschaft, nice uniforms, being a member of units et cetera could have been impressive. But in a lot of memoirs of these times it's made clear, that the men who thought this way were, by their companions, seen as fools and too different from the cool-headed, rural way of thinking considered characteristic of Estonians.

In the literature were given the different numbers of Estonians in the Red Army. The 22nd Estonian Territory Corps (former Estonian Army (in June 1940 about 16,000 men) and the men, who were called into the military service in 1940-1941; almost all higher officers were arrested in June 1941) had 2 Divisions. In the Corps, there were 7000 Estonians at the beginning of the war between Germany and the Soviet Union. The corps was partly defeated (about 2000 Estonians died or wounded) by Germans at the end of Summer 1941 and was disbanded after a lot of Estonian troops (ca 4500) had gone over to the German side. The 8th Guard Estonian Riflemen Corps was formed in 1942 and there were about 30,000 men, part of the Russians or from Russia mobilized Estonians, who lived in Russia before 1917 already. A lot of men, mobilized from Estonia in 1941 (ca 33-35000), also former troops of the disbanded 22nd corps had already died in so-called labour-battalions (in winter 1941/1942; about 10,000 men). A number of men were mobilized to the Red Army in 1944/1945 in Estonia, also some former troops of the Estonian units in the German or Finnish Army.

Principally it was possible for an Estonian (and some of them also did it) to serve in the five different armies in six-seven years: in Estonian (1940), Red Army (1940-1941, the 22nd Estonian Territory Corps; a lot of those troops had gone over to the German side or were captured by Germans and were left to home at the Christmas 1941), in the Finnish Army (1943-1944), in the German Army (1944-1945) and after the war in the Baltic Battalion, formed by the Western Allies from Estonians, Latvians, and Lithuanians at the war-prisoner camps. Some other combinations were also possible.