20th SS-division

Unfortunately there have always been powers in the world that see small nations as nothing else but a nuisance on the political map. This is exactly the thought that was in the minds of the criminals who unleashed World War II. Our flag was torn from our hands, our state and our army were crushed and there was nothing we could do to prevent this. But we still fought evil, even if not in our own uniforms. There were many uniforms and Estonian soldiers often found themselves against each other in the battleground, and this is a crime that those who started the war will have to answer for in the face of eternity. And even though the war took our freedom for half a century, there was a bit of pride in the defeat because Estonian soldiers had brought honour to their weapons, whether fighting in Finnish, German or Russian uniforms. Those soldiers showed that they can fight the hardest battle in the world – a hopeless fight, probably knowing that no fight that is fought in the name of truth and freedom is completely hopeless. The victory did not come until half a century later, but it did come and everyone who longed for a free Estonia contributed to this.


Estonians in the Red Army

The Soviet Union conducted a mobilisation in Estonia as the Second World War broke out. They found a total of 33,300 men, including those who had served before. At first, the mobilised were taken into the work battalions in the Soviet home rear, where almost a third died within the following year of exhaustion, disease and hunger. In December 1941, the highest leaders of the Soviet Union ordered the creation of a national military unit consisting of the former military units of the Republic of Estonia and this became the core of the future Estonian Rifle Corps. The Estonian Rifle Corps consisted of two divisions and other assisting units.

The first baptism of fire for the Estonian Rifle Corps occurred in January 1943 under the town of Velikiye Luki in Russia, where it suffered extremely serious losses and where lot of them defected to the German side. As a result of this, the military unit was removed from the front and sent to the rear. Later, the artillery of the Rifle Corps was used in Russia by the towns of Nevel and Novosokolniki.

The Rifle Corps arrived in Estonia in September 1944 and took part in forcing the Emajõgi river. Hard battles were fought in Tehumardi and Sõrve in Saaremaa (Ösel) island. The battles of the Corps finally ended in Kurzeme peninsula (Latvia) in May 1945.


Estonians in the Finnish Army

The story of the Finnish Boys, as they became known, started in the days of the Winter War, when the first group of Estonian volunteers, who had left Estonia to stand against the red terror facing our northern neighbours and fight for “the freedom of Finland and honour of Estonia,” had gathered in Finland. The famous ERNA reconnaissance group, which arrived in Estonia to spy for the Germans, was formed of these Estonians in 1941.

In 1942, the 47th Regiment of Finland started to gather Estonians who were serving in different military units all over Finland. In spring 1942, 23 men were selected from this regiment for a distant reconnaissance unit, who all died when trying to complete their task. About 3,400 Estonian men had been gathered into the 47th Regiment by autumn of the same year, 400 of whom were sent to the navy in February 1944 and the remaining men were split into two battalions. This is how the infantry regiment of the Finnish Boys – JR 200 – was created.

The first battalion of fire awaited the Regiment of the Finnish Boys in June 1944 in Karelia were they held retreat battles until reaching Viipuri. After that, the Finnish Boys were relocated to the Vuoksi Front, where position war was held. In August 1944, the Finnish Boys got the chance to come and defend Estonia from the attacking Red Army. They left Finland without weapons, because when the Soviet Union entered a truce with Finland, one of its demands was that the Finnish Boys were not to be allowed to leave Finland with weapons. The 1,752 Finnish Boys who arrived through Paldiski were included in the 20th Estonian Waffen SS Division and located in the Männiku Camp, where the First Battalion was separated from the regiment – a total of 580 men, who on 25 August were sent to the Emajõgi Front to fight the attacking Red Army. The remaining men were left in reserve until the end of military activities. The task of the Finnish Boys on the Emajõgi Front was to eliminate the so called “Voldi wedge”, which they passed with flying colours. The last battle of the Finnish Boys was fought on 17 September 1944 by the Emajõgi river, after which the unit disintegrated.


Estonians in the German Army

In August 1942, the highest leaders of Germany gave their permission to the creation of the Estonian Legion under the Waffen SS. Even though the name of this national military unit changed several times during the war, people continued to call it the Estonian Legion. The first legionnaires were the volunteers who had returned from the Eastern Front and young untrained boys from Estonia. Young recruits were trained in the Debica training camp close to Krakow in Poland, which was also known as the Heidelager („Heath Camp“). The first major battles of the Estonian Legion took place in Izium and Cherkassy in the Ukraine and under Nevel in Russia.

Gathering the Estonian Legion to the Narva Front started in February 1944. It took part in all major defence battles in Estonia – on the Narva Front, in Auvere and Sinimäe (Blue Hills on Tannenberg line) and by the Emajõgi river. The battles of the Estonian Legion finished in May 1945 in the Czech Republic. 30,000 men served in the Estonian Legion during the entire war, and some sources suggest this figure was even as high as 40,000. In addition to the Legion, Estonians also fought in eastern battalions, police battalions, border guard regiments, the air force and the air force assistance service. A total of 70,000 passed through the services of different German units, which is 5% of the total population of Estonia back then. 20,000 men lost their lives in battle.


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