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Estonian SS volunteers and history

Article about: The people who live on the Eastern shore of the Baltic Sea are no strangers to adversity. Historically plagued by invading armies and oppressors, from the Teutonic Knights to the Czars of Ru

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    Default Estonian SS volunteers and history

    The people who live on the Eastern shore of the Baltic Sea are no strangers to adversity. Historically plagued by invading armies and oppressors, from the Teutonic Knights to the Czars of Russia, the three Baltic nations struggled continuously to retain their autonomy. In 1918 it seemed that their hopes for permanent independence would be realized. The armies of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia had heroically expelled both the Red Army and the Germans from their homelands. By 1922 the Baltic people had won world-wide recogition for their independence. The Soviet Union signed several treaties acknowledging their sovereignty. Yet by 1940 they were no longer free.
    Baltic nations contributed fully to the world community through the League of Nations. The overall conditions that existed in USSR during this time were many years behind those in the Baltic States.
    The ominous growth of the German and Soviet superpowers, both militarily and politically, sealed the fate of the strategic Baltic area. In the German/Soviet non-agression pact of 1939, Germany secretly ceded the Baltic Republics to USSR, on the condition that Germany would be allowed to process the extradition of ethnic Germans (Volksdeutsch) from those areas.
    In the Autumn of 1939 the three Baltic governments were forced to permit the garrisoning of some 100 thousand Red Army troops in their countries.In Estonia in Islands Saaremaa-Ösel and Hiiumaa-Dagö and Moon, to built airbases and fortifications. Finland, faced with similar ultimatums was in a posistion to resist. The result was the Winter War of 1939-40, in which tiny Finland sorely humiliated the victorious Red Army.
    The actual annexation of the Baltic States did not take place until June of 1940. Stalin, fearful of Germany's successes in Western Europe, decided to shore up his defenses. The Soviets merely had to link up with their "Trojan Horse" forces already stationed in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to complete their occupation. As a result several hundred thousand soviet troops poured into the Baltic States. Almost immediately the three republics found they had "voted" I themselves into the Soviet Union.
    Although many Baltic statesmen wished to resist the soviets, the majority wanted to placate them at any cost to preserve a semblance of independence. Even this was not granted to them. Ironically the USSR introduced a "Trojan Horse' into their own midst by incorporating the Baltic armies intact into the Red Army. While many of the Baltic soldiers accepted this turn of events, others deserted. The deserters took their weapons into the forests to begin an unheralded guerilla struggle that would not cease for a dozen years.
    On June 22, 1941 Germany launched the greatest military campaign ever attempted, Operation Barbarrossa, the invasion of USSR. Simultaneously the people of the Baltic States revolted. Soldiers mutinied and turned on the Red Army, creating a dangerous situation behind USSR's Western defenses.
    The condition in the Baltic States shortly after June 22, 1941, was one of extreme chaos. Swift German advances enabled the Lithuanians to drive some of the Soviets from their country. The Latvians and Estonians eagerly awaited German assistance, which came rapidly.
    ESTONIA
    Estonia was the last of the Baltic States to be defended by Red Army. The most fightings was at the island area, due of the cross fire of the Hanko- - Odensholm ( Osmussaar) coastal batteries close the entrance to the Leningrad and Kronschtadt over the Baltic Gulf in order to distract the Wehrmacht from Leningrad. Tallinn was captured with only a minimal delay, but this diversion enabled the Soviets to strengthen the Leningrad front.
    Many of the Estonian partisans were professional soldiers and as such were of value to the Wehrmacht. Eight battalions of Estonians were quickly incorporated into the German Army. In most cases they wore Estonian and civil uniforms and were supplied with captured Soviet/ ex-Estonian army arms. A lot of Estonians go to the service of Omakaitse- Selfdefence
    The Estonians soon found themselves placed in a frontline capacity. During the Soviet winter counter offensive of 1941-42, the Estonian battalions fought extremely well, but absorbed tremendous casualties. Although the Waffen-SS laid claim to these units, the Wehrmacht steadfastly refused to give them up. By 1944, more than 20 Estonian Battalions were in service with the Wehrmacht.
    Estonian insignia worn with German uniforms consisted of a roundel cap badge displaying the national colors of blue, black and white and two varities of armshields. One Landshield depicted the Estonian crest of three black lions on a gold field with ESTLAND stitched in blue thread across the top. The other Landshield was a design of the national colors in a diagonal pattern, these insignias were worn only by Estonians serving with the Wehrmacht.
    When the SS moved into Estonia shortly after, the German occupation, large numbers of Estonians were sought for polIce and anti-partIsan dutIes. Under the dubious auspices of the SS and Security Police, a Selbstschutz, or Estonian self defense force was established. Unfortunately the Selbstschutz was given over to the SS-Einsatzgruppen and became involved in all types of criminal actions including the carring out of liquidations. The Selbschutz soon was replaced by Estonian Security Battalions (Schuma Battalions) which were used in a more legitimate manner.
    The Schuma Battalions were filled with conscripts who were to serve for six months durations. Some of these units saw frontline action while others were used for anti-paitisan duties throughout the Ostland Reich Commissariat (consisting of Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and White USSR).Later on in the war, many of the Schuma Battalons transferred into the Waffen-SS and to the Estonian border guard regiment.
    Uniforms for the Selbstschutz and Schuma units were extremely varied. All types of military and police regalia were worn, including used, outdated black SS uniforms. By the end of the war uniforms had been standardized to Waffen-SS attire with various types of insignia.ˇ After 1943 many of the Schuma formations wore Auxiliary Security Police insignia and badges of rank.
    In 1942 a campaign began in Estonia for the creation of a truly national military force. The effort was lead by Estonian nationalists intent on securing autoniomy for their nation. Up until 1942 the Estonians serving with the Germans were doing so in a strictly subordinate role. Little concession was given to their national pride. Estonian nationalists felt that an armed force more closely identified with Estonia was necessary to keep their homeland from being totally merged into a larger Nazi province.
    After being assured that large numbers of Estonian men would turn out for an Estonian Legion, Reichsfuhrer-SS Himmler authorized its creation in August 1942. Almost immediately a 900 man force consisting of ethnic Germans and Estonians was made available to the Waffe-SS. By January 1943 more than 6500 Estonians had volUnteered. Many of these volunteers were sent to a Waffen-SS training camp for foreign volunteers in Sennheim, Alsace. It was here that Himmler inspected a contingent of Estonians and was so impressed by their "Nordic" appearance that he begun to actively lobby for Baltic autonomy to insure the continuing flaw of recruits from the area.
    Himmler's efforts to secure limited independence for the Baltic States were sabotaged by Martin Bormann, Head of the Nazi Party Chancellery who was often engaged in a power rivalry with Himmler. Bormann used his direct access w1th Hitler to effectively spike Himmler's proposals. Throughout the war however, local SS off1cials, on their own initiative, continued to promise autonomy to the Baltic people.
    Spring of 1943 saw the incorporation of 3,000 Estonians into the Waffen-SS. At that time recruiting and training facilities were being overtaxed and only that number of Estonians could be processed. Some of these volunteers were combined with a cadre from the 1st SS Grenadier Brigade to form the 3rd Estnisches SS Freiwilligen Brigade. By October of 1943 the Estonian Legion, at Brigade strength was at the front of Army Group Center engaged in defensive fighting. The Brigade's commander was an Estonian, SS-Oberfuhrer (Senior Colonel) Soodla.
    Neary l000 other Estonian volunteers had previously been formed into a special, well equipped battalion titled "Narwa". Narwa (Narva) is a city, region and river located in extreme Northeastern Estonia. During 1919 the Estonian Army held off 22 consecutive Red Army assaults on the old medieval fortresses of Narwa. This was an event of considerable historic importance for Estonia.
    The "Narwa" battalion was assigned to the 5th SS Panzergrenadier Division "Wiking" on the front of Army Group South. "Narwa" spent a year with the 'Wiking" Division, during which time it was nearly destroyed in the desperate battle of the Korsun-Cherkassey pocket. In July 1944, "Narwa" was transferred to the 20th Waffen Grenadier Division der SS (Estnische Nr. 1).
    Estonia's Legion, the 3rd SS Brigade, was enlarged into the 20th SS Division during December 1943. By Spring of 1944 the Division was stationed in Estonia and participated in the efforts of Army Group North to hold the Narwa line against heavy Soviet attacks. The Germans were unable to hold Estonia and large forces disorganized soldiers fled to the south and west.
    The Soviet Summer offensive of 1944 had totally shattered Army Group Center, annihilating 28 out of 38 employed German Divisions. Much of Army Group North was trapped in Western Latvia, wlile other portions of it, (including the Estonian Division), managed to escape to Eastern Prussia and Poland.
    Autumn of 1944 saw the 20th SS Division refitting in Czechslovakia and Western Silesia. The Division at this time was composed of three Grenadier Regiments, one Artillery Regiment, four support Battalions and one company. The commander of the Division was SS-Brigadefuhrer (Major General) Franz Augsberger.
    The Estonian Division, which had achieved a reputation for reliability, spent the rest of 1944 engaged in the defense of Lower Silesia. Since the reconquest of Estonia by the USSR however, a feeling of depression gripped the Estonian soldiers. Far away from their homeland, they began to feel that they were fighting Germany's war and help to occupate Czehoslovakia.
    Rumors circulated through the Division that the Germans were planning to move them westward to engage the Western Allies, which was the last thing the Estonians wanted to do. A growing sense of alienation and hostility towards the Germans came to a climax in January 1945.
    The Division was ordered to stop a strong soviet advance on Breslau in Southwestern Silesia. Shortly after being committed to combat late in January, the Division fell to pieces. Groups of Estonians deserted en masse while others mutinied. The combat capability of the formation was lost for two months. After another extensive bout of refitting, the Division again participated in action duning March 1945.
    Hitler had heard of the January incident however and wanted to implement the disarming of Himmler's foreign legions and distribute the equipment to German forces. Only two foreign units, the Indian Legion'and the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division der SS (Galizische Nr. l), the Ukraine Division, were affected by Hitler's disarmament proposal.
    The Estonian Division was used only sparingly for the rest of the war. It finally surrendered to the Red Army in Bohemia on May 7, 1945. All survivors were packed up and shipped to Siberian Labor Camps.
    Estonians serving in the Waffen~SS were given identifying insignia in the form of collar tabs and armshields. At first members of the Estonian Legion wore the SS "'Sig-rune" collar patch. This was later replaced with a "E" letter with sword on it. With the formation of the Estonian Division the collar patch insignia again changed. The second collar tab worn by the Estonians displayed a mailed arm holding a short sword framing a stylized letter 'E'.
    The Estonian SS troops also wore a different type of armsields.

    Richard Landwehr, "Sunburst and Swastika", Military Collectors' News, 1972


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  3. #2
    SS Ring Man
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    Default Re: Estonian SS volunteers and history

    Thank you for this history lesson,so many just know about all of the items we collect.And to offten we fail to under stand the back ground of whay thay were made,it help us all to understand the working of this time.And it help us to have a better and well rounded understanding about all theas bits of history we collect.Thanks Darrell

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    Default Re: Estonian SS volunteers and history

    Just a few anecdotes to Dimas's work, after the surrender of the remnants of the 20th Esonian Division in Czechoslavakia Knights Cross Winner SS Sturmbannfuhrer Paul Maitla and other Estonian officers of his Regiment were murdered by Czech partisans on 10/5/1945.

    Some of the Estonians were captured by the British in Denmark in May 1945 as the Ausb and Ertz Regiment from the Divison was stationed at that time in Denmark and included the famous Knights Cross Winner SS Obersturmbannfuhrer Harald Riipalu. Riipalu and many other Estonians settled in the UK and he died in West Yorkshire in 4/4/1961,

    Maitla and Riipalu wewre both awarded the Ritterkreuz for the Narva Battles.

    regards

    Paul

  5. #4

    Default Re: Estonian SS volunteers and history

    Some pictures :
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  6. #5
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    Default Re: Estonian SS volunteers and history

    Unfortunately they are fall during the battle of Blue hills,,,
    Regards,
    Dimas

    my Skype: warrelics

  7. #6

    Default Re: Estonian SS volunteers and history

    They look really young in those pics.

    Cheers, Ade.

  8. #7

    Thumbs up Re: Estonian SS volunteers and history

    Quote by Adrian Stevenson View Post
    They look really young in those pics.
    War is old men talking and young men dying...

    Thx for the text Dimas, it was a good read.



    Greetz

    Nick VR

  9. #8

    Default Re: Estonian SS volunteers and history

    Very true Nick.....

    Cheers, Ade.

  10. #9
    BoMir
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    Default Re: Estonian SS volunteers and history

    Thank you for the information Dimas

    Quote by Dimas View Post
    Unfortunately they are fall during the battle of Blue hills,,,
    I read about that battle in the book "Last knight of Flanders" a book about the only Flemish RK winner, Remi Schrijnen. The Estonians fought next to Sturmbrigade "Langemarck", a unit of Flemish volunteers. The fight of the Blue Mountains in Narwa was really hard with a lot of casualties.

    Best regards

  11. #10

    Default Re: Estonian SS volunteers and history

    The battle of Narva is also sometimes referred to as The Battle of the European SS. Large number of volunteer Waffen SS units from Norway, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, as well as large number of Estonian conscripts (20th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS), had been engaged on the German side.

    The main brunt of the Soviet attack was to fall on Steiner's SS Corps, positioned east of the strategically important town of Narva. Steiner's corps was mostly made up of SS Freiwilligen or volunteer formations. SS men from Scandinavia, Belgium, France, The Netherlands, Hungary, Romania, Italy, Spain and the Baltic States joined German formations in the defense of the river line.

    The Dutchmen of the 4.SS-Freiwilligen-Panzergrenadier-Brigade Nederland and the various nationalities of the 11.SS-Freiwilligen-Panzergrenadier-Division Nordland began frantically digging in along what had become known as the Narva Line. The defensive line ran for over seven miles, from the village of Lilienbach in the north to the village of Dolgaja Niva in the south, bulging eastwards from the river near Narva itself.

    Battle of Narva - Battle for the Narva Bridgehead (1944) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    Steiner complimented the Dutchmen for their courage in the following corps communique:

    "The fantastic attitude of the troops and the self-assured leadership of the commanders of Brigade 'Nederland' deserve unlimited recognition. I thank both for the brave attitude they have displayed so far. "


    On the picture some Dutchmen aroun Narva.
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