Estonian Volunteers in the Wehrmacht in WWII

Estonians fought in the German Army against the Red Army in Russia andin the Ukraine since September 1941 (in the beginning so-calledSicherungsabteilungen no. 181-186, about 600-800 men in each, after onthe base of these units autumn 1942 Ostbatallionen no. 658, 659 and 660were reformed, also an independent East platoon no. 657 (former no. 13of the Sicherungsabteilung no 184; each Abteilung has 4 Kompanie’s, theenumeration began with the first of 181th and ended with them, probably24th of the 186th; the number of the Kompanie’s in the 186th is unknownme). Also, there were formed so-called Estonian Police-Battalions, no.29-42). These units fought from December 1941 to January 1944 mostly atVolkhov Kessel and between Leningrad and Pskov, in the beginning againstGeneral Vlassovs Army. The men were volunteers with the contractsusually for one year. After this year a lot of them came back into acivil life, somebody began to study at the Tartu University (to beginthe University studies a certificate about the participation in thestruggle against the Soviet Union (in German Army or in Omakaitse) or inArbeitsdienst or of the health conditions, which made the person unableto join the army or Arbeitsdienst was necessary. Fast all of themwere mobilized again in 1943-1944.

The formation of the voluntary Estonian Legion was proclaimed on August28, 1942 (exactly the year after the liberation of Tallinn). The placeof formation was the so-called Heidelager, near Debica, Poland. Theformation was not very successful in the beginning, while the Estonianshoped to join to the units commanded by Estonians, but the EstonianLegion was the SS-unit under the command of an Austrian, FranzAugsberger. In March 1943 about 2000 volunteers came. In 1943 800 menwere given for the SS-Division “Wiking” (as Estonian battalion”Narwa”). On February 24, 1943, the hidden mobilization, officially themobilization of the Arbeitsdienst and Hilfswilliger of the generations1919-1924 was proclaimed. At 5300 men mobilized then about 5000 weresent to the Heidelager. The reformation of the Estonian Legion into theEstonian Brigade of the SS-volunteers (later no. 3) was announced in May5, 1943. The Brigade fought since October 1943 by Newel, then againstthe partisans at Rossony, at the beginning of December 1943 the brigadewas 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 theEstonian Brigade. From December 10, 1943, the 1924 generation wasmobilized. 900 of them were sent to Heidelager. On the men mobilized inOctober and December 1943 500 were sent for the “Wiking-Narwa”. FromAugust 1942 till January 1944 about 11 000 men joined voluntarily orwere mobilized to the Estonian Brigade. 1300 (800+500) of them were sentfor “Narwa. On December 31, 1943, the Estonian Brigade had 5099 men atthe front, about 5000 men were in training camps or in the reserve. OnJanuary 24, 1944, the 3rd Estonian Brigade was denominated the 20thEstonian SS-volunteers Division (later the Grenadier-Division). TheDivision had, in the beginning, two regiments (45th and 46th), artilleryand some smaller special units, in January or February 1944 on the baseof the rests the former East Battalions, Batallion “Narwa” and somePolice Battalions the 47th regiment was formed.

When at the beginning of the year 1944 the Red Army reached the bordersof Estonia, a new mobilization of the generations 1904-1923 wasproclaimed. The mobilizations in 1944 had also the support of theleaders of the Estonian national movement. With the firstmobilization in 1944 38,000 men were mobilized. At these men, the sevenborder-defense regiments were formed. A lot of mobilized men were sentas an addition to the SS-Division. In May 1944 the Division had 5,000men, on June 20, 1944, there were 13,423 men and on September 15, 194415,382 men. The last supplement for the Division in Estonia was the1802 men of the Estonian Regiment (JR-200) of the Finnish Army, formedin 1943, who were sent back to Estonia shortly before the separate peacebetween Finland and Russia. The first Batallion of JR-200 was added to47th regiment as the 3rd Batallion. The second Batallion of JR-200stayed in the training near Tallinn. These men had fled to Finland in1942-1943 to escape the mobilization into the German units. For thesemen the situation in August 1944 was different and they came back tofight for their homeland (only 10% or about 200 former soldiers of theJR 200 used the opportunity to stay in Finland and to go to Swedenlater).

After leaving Estonia the Estonian Division was sent to Poland andreformed near Breslau (Wroclaw) in October 1944 on the base ofEstonians, who had fled into Germany (soldiers and officers of verydifferent 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 theday of the capitulation of Germany the units of the 20th EstonianDivision dislocated in the area of Tornov-Jelenia Gora North-East fromPrague. The reserve units dislocated in North Germany and Denmark.

The battalion “Narwa” fought in Izyum, by Kursk and Harkow and finallyin February 1944 by Korsun-Shevtshenkovsk. The battalion suffered hardlosses and on April 1, 1944, there were only 100 men on the list of thebattalion (probably some men were by this time already added to 20thDivision). 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, therewere 52,000 Estonians in German units. The other Estonian units (exceptthe SS-Division with about 5,000 men on the salary lists then) were: 7Border-Defence-Regiments, 1st Estonian Reserve Regiment, 13 PoliceBattalions, 1 Special Batallion of SD, Jagdkommandos (612 men), 3Custom-Border-Defence-Battalions, 4 Pionier-Battalions, EstonianAviation Group, 2 Reserve Battalions, 3 East-Battalions and somesmallerunits. Of these men at all 20,000 were killed in action or died or wereexecuted in Soviet prisoner-camps (some of them died in thewar-prisonercamps of Czech partisans (in May 1945), later also of the UnitedStates, United Kingdom, and France). 5,000-6,000 of them were capturedinCzechoslovakia by the English and American units, 2,500 by Sovietunits.A lot of them were captured also in Estonia, in Courland, inAustria,Italy, France, and Norway. Some Estonians have fought even in units ofGeneral Rommel in Africa. Many former soldiers of the German Army(formally even deserters), stayed in Estonia in September 1944 andhaving belonged to the German Army was one of the most importantreasonsof arrests in 1944-1953. The men, who were not arrested, had greatdifficulties in matriculating to the universities or getting jobswhere high professional education was needed, etc.

It is very hard to say something about the way of thinking of EstonianWaffen-SS volunteers or the mobilized. The majority of them believedthat they were fighting for free Estonia. Of course, they were youngmenand for some of them the vulgar mysticism of SS, speeches about theruling nordic race, Kameradschaft, nice uniforms, being a member of units et cetera could have been impressive. But in a lot ofmemoirs 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 thecool-headed, rural way of thinking considered characteristic ofEstonians.

In the literature were given the different numbers of Estonians in theRed Army. The 22nd Estonian Territory Corps (former Estonian Army (inJune 1940 about 16,000 men) and the men, who were called into themilitary service in 1940-1941; almost all higher officers were arrestedin June 1941) had 2 Divisions. In the Corps, there were 7000 Estoniansat the beginning of the war between Germany and the Soviet Union. The corpswas partly defeated (about 2000 Estonians died or wounded) by Germansatthe end of Summer 1941 and was disbanded after a lot of Estoniantroops(ca 4500) had gone over to the German side. The 8th Guard EstonianRiflemen Corps was formed in 1942 and there were about 30,000 men, partof the Russians or from Russia mobilized Estonians, who lived inRussiabefore 1917 already. A lot of men, mobilized from Estonia in 1941 (ca33-35000), also former troops of the disbanded 22nd corps had alreadydied in so-called labour-battalions (in winter 1941/1942; about 10,000men). A number of men were mobilized to the Red Army in 1944/1945 inEstonia, also some former troops of the Estonian units in the German orFinnish Army.

Principally it was possible for an Estonian (and some of them also didit) to serve in the five different armies in six-seven years: inEstonian (1940), Red Army (1940-1941, the 22nd Estonian TerritoryCorps;a lot of those troops had gone over to the German side or were capturedby Germans and were left to home at the Christmas 1941), in theFinnish Army (1943-1944), in the German Army (1944-1945) and after thewar in the Baltic Battalion, formed by the Western Allies fromEstonians, Latvians, and Lithuanians at the war-prisoner camps. Someother combinations were also possible.