The History Repeats Itself

In February 1944 the Estonian soldiers were brought through Russia behind Narva river, exactly where they had been battling on the Eastern Front. Harald Nugiseks arrived there on February 19. What had happened in the meantime?

The Fall

For almost two years the German group Nord's two armies – the 16th and 18th – had been protecting the Leningrad-Novgorod-Staraja Russa-Nevel front. This was a passive part of the front from where men were given to other fronts if needed. So it happened that this part of the front suddenly had a small number of men left and they had even less armored machinery. However, everyone knew that the Russians were gathering powerful attack units to the Leningrad front and to Oranienbaum. The men expected the worst. The question was when will the cannonade and attack begin? Thus the Army Group Nord leader Feldmarschall Küchler gave an order to the 18th Army that was protecting the front's Northern part until Novgorod at the end of summer 1943 to prepare to retreat. The new resistance position was meant to be set up on the west bank of Narva river and the outpost would be on Luga river. The securing of the west bank began in September 1943 and by the beginning of 1944 all bigger unmanned forts were ready.

So far the Germans had been successful on the huge front because when they did not have enough soldiers, they maneuvered. Divisions were taken from one part of the front to another on planes and this way there was always enough men in dangerous places at the right time. In 1943 the fuel-shortage became an issue and the Germans were unable to maneuver like they used to. At the beginning of January the Germans knew that the Russians would attack soon and the 3rd SS Panzer Corps was brought to operate with the 18th Army. The Corps included the 11th SS Division Nordland, the 23rd SS Division Nederland and the 20th Estonian SS Division. The be more precise, the Estonian Division was on its way, it had battles in the Nevel area. Also some parts of the Nederland were on their way.

On January 14 the Russians began their attack, which was expected but at the same time surprising. After a two-hour destructive firing, which involved the Kroonlinn Fort and the red-flagged Baltic Military Fleet, the Russians began their attack. The main attack was led by Leningrad front's units, all together three armies. From the Oranienbaum pocket (more precisely the bridgehead) the Soviet attack army, led by General Fedjuninski, broke through the German 170th Division's front. The Soviet 47th Army began the attack towards Jamburg to stop the Germans retreating to Narva.

The German Army's backbone was soon broken and a panicky retreating began, which startled the whole world. "The front that was moving from under Leningrad got its feet on the ground on the Narva river's line," wrote Colonel Lieutenant Harald Riipalu. And this did not happen thanks to the retreating German WH field divisions but thanks to those units that consisted of volunteers. These were our Border Guard regiments, the Estonian 20th SS Division, volunteers from the 11th SS Division Nordland and 23rd SS Division Nederland – in other words, Estonians, Danish, Norwegians, Dutch, Belgians, Flemish and Germans.

The Red Army's attacks had three main purposes:

  1. to crush the circle that surrounded Leningrad;
  2. to destroy the German 18th Army;
  3. to occupy Estonia.

One must admit that neither side fulfilled its strategic plans. The Leningrad's circle was crushed but the German 18th Army was only partly destroyed. The plan to occupy Estonia was completely stopped. Also the Germans' plan to stop the Russians on Narva river's line only partly came true. On February 2 the Red Army reached Narva river and crossed it on several places. Extremely dangerous enemy's bridgeheads were now on the river's west bank and the larger ones were near Riigiküla village and near Vaasa-Vepsküla-Siiverts. The last one was north of Narva and this way very dangerous to the protectors of the town. The same time the Krivasoo pocket was feared and there were several less important river crossings, all of which were fought back.