The Attack

The morning of March 1 began with a 15-minute cannon fire on the enemy's trenches. When the explosions on the enemy's trench line stopped, the attack began at 7.05 a.m. The participants were the Estonian 20th SS Division's 45th Regiments 1st battalion's first company, led by Major Harald Riipalu, and the 46th Regiment's 1st battalion's first company, led by Major Ain Erwin Mere. Riipalu's men went straight ahead, Mere's men attacked from the wing. One of those men who went to attack in the lines of the 46th Regiment was 22-year-old Harald Nugiseks, who, as mentioned, had reached the Narva front a few weeks ago coming from Nevel.

What was hidden in the souls of these men before the attack? It was a soldier's work and there were not much time left for thinking or discussing, they only had to battle to kick the enemy out of its trenches. True, the situation was different than under Nevel where they were battling on foreign land and the smells had been different there. Now they were in Estonia. They had no soldier's bravery: "Damn it, the Russians need to be kicked out!" At first it seemed that the attack was successful. They were only a few hundred meters away from the enemy's trenches. And then came the mines. One explosion was followed by another. It seemed like the devious land wanted to rise to the sky and cut off the men's road. They had to retreat.

For Harald Nugiseks this time can easily be called his first personal hell. The land was boiling and bubbling. The enemy's cannon troops aimed their fire on a few hundred meter long strip on our positions. The cannons were followed by the Russians "Katyushas". It seemed like an invisible giant scythe was cutting the forest behind the men. The trees lost their branches, leaving only single stubs behind, which looked liked the teeth of an elderly person. They tried to cut the attackers off from communication, food and ammunition carriers. At the same time the enemy's grenade throwers aimed exactly at our trenches, so that dirt and sand was falling from their edges. This was hell on earth where the silently killing missile splinters flew through smoke and dust.

Although Nugiseks had been in battles before under Volossovo, Gatchina and Nevel, this conflagration was new to even him. It was a hurricane of fire, smoke and iron. The instinct to life forced the men on the ground, which had not offered them protection for a long time. It took some time but the men rose again to conquer the cross ditch to which they had only about 50 meters. But first they had to face new mines, barbed wire and machine gun nests. In hope of good luck, the men simply ran over these to start cleaning the ditches. To help the attacking unit, our cannon unit opened fire again. Before the last missiles raised dirt, stone and iron fountains into the March sky, the soldiers stood up and tried to cross the distance to the trenches by jumping. Here and there the men's fire and hand grenades forced the enemy's machine guns to be silent but they did not reach their desired goal. The men were once again against their fathers' land.

After a few hours Major Mere gave another order to attack. When the units reached the enemy's trenches, the two officers who led the attack, Rõõmussaar and Lumera, were wounded and unable to conitnue battling. It seemed that the attack was going to fail. The operation leaders were ready to give the order to retreat. Then a message came through the only communication radio that was left: Riipalu's men had reached Vaasa, but need help to secure their places. The Russians dominated the cross ditch and this meant a certain death for Riipalu's unit. At the same time the center received another message: the Lauenberg school's man Harald Nugiseks has taken over leading the unit after the officers were wounded.

Nugiseks soon received a message from Mere through the radio: "Nugiseks, if you can, try again! Vaasa is conquered." It was hard to understand whether this was an order or a plea. The answer was laconic, like it was accustomed to Nugiseks: "I'll try." And he did. There are moments in life that will remain in one's mind for years and not just for oneself. The moment had arrived for Harald Nugiseks that lasted for minutes, possibly for hours, when the impossible was made. How many were there men with whom Nugiseks attacked? Around twenty. Their weapons were poor: grenades and machine guns, a radio for communication.

Nugiseks and his men were in the enemy's ditches. The men coming from behind passed the grenades to those in front. And when they reached the trench's curve, Nugiseks ordered them to throw it behind. As soon as the explosions were heard, the first man quickly went over the corner. There were those who were killed and those who were still ready to pick up a gun. Their lives were ended by a submachine gun before they could even think of shooting. It was a sober-minded discussion which led the men forward. Nugiseks probably realized that if they constantly attack the enemy, the latter will become helpless. The constant shooting didn't let the enemy throw hand grenades and the rest was taken care by the automatic gun in the arms of the leading men. This gun did not shoot randomly, it aimed exactly where it had to.

This is called rolling in war history where each moment you face hundreds of deaths. Even the smallest carelessness can cost you your life. This demanded the unity of nerve and wisdom. And soon the leaders of the attack received the following message: "Nugiseks is battling in the trenches of bolshevists." New gun fires, new grenades… The whistling of the enemy's missile splinters, explosions somewhere but it was hard to say if these were on the enemy's side or on the rear. Nugiseks was trapped under the falling dirt caused by the enemy's bombs three times but his fellow soldiers pulled him out and the attack, as well as the battle, continued. And suddenly the battle ended, although some missiles were still exploding and bullets were whistling. Riipalu's and Mere's battle groups had merged and the cross ditch was conquered. The firing of heavy weapons increased even more but this was only natural. The angry enemy expressed its rage.

Once the great tension passed and people's minds were again able to discuss and criticize, it became evident that about thousand hand grenades were thrown to the enemy's fire nests, more than eighty enemy's soldiers, whom the red regime had sent to conquer the land that did not belong to it, were lying in the dirt and mud in the trenches. They had to face soldiers to whom this land belonged. The terms were favorable to conquer the Vaasa-Siiverts-Vepsküla bridgehead soon completely. And when Nugiseks was asked after the battle how it all happened, he answered: "It just did."

* * *

At that time nobody knew that through this bridgehead a new and quick death to Estonia was planned. And if this death and hatred avalanche would have taken over Estonia then, in March, 80,000 Estonians who during that summer and autumn were saved by escaping would not have seen it. Would we have been any poorer then? How much in life depends on a second, minute, an hour, one person, a group …

Inside the room, where the author of this text is facing Harald Nugiseks, the time stops for a minute. At least for the author. And he looks at that experienced man who under Narva faced his first hell and had two more waiting for him.

"And then?" the author asked.

"Then I got a vacation."

* * *

The battle to conquer the bridgehead completely continued. On the night of March 3 Riipalu exchanged the 1st Battalion with the 2nd Battalion, which had been in reserve so far. Mere's 46th Regiment was also supplemented. On March 4 the battles began with new strength. The enemy's counterattacks were beaten back and the bridgehead was torn into two. This way it was impossible for the enemy to get some backup. On March 5 Vepsküla was conquered.

The enemy's last resistance point was in Siiverts cemetery, near the Swedish memorial. On March 6 the SS Division Nordland's battle group attacked it and occupied the bunker. At the same time Estonians also began their attack and by 11 p.m. on March 6 the bridgehead was destroyed. The soldier's work started by Harald Nugiseks was finally finished.

* * *

The importance of Vaasa-Siiverts-Vepsküla bridgehead can be seen in how furious the enemy was. Fierce battles began to retake the bridgehead. These were beaten back. Then leaflets were thrown to the Estonian's positions, which demanded them to leave the front or… all Estonian towns would be destroyed. The Estonians did not leave and cruel battles without any military meaning began. The enemy simply expressed its anger. On March 6 Narva was hit by a serious bomb attack and the town was destroyed. On March 8 the same happened with Jõhvi and Tapa, on March 9 with Tallinn and Tartu.