It Happened Under Porhov

"The sight on the highway changed every day. Most vehicles moved towards Porhov and sometimes there were about twenty or more vehicles in a colon. On the early morning of July 5 we received a message that we have to move onwards. We had a meeting with the boys and I gave them an order to run to the forest when darkness arrives and we receive an order to retreat. The car colon had turned into one winding snake on the road, which had no beginning or end and which was headed towards Porhov. It became more clear that the front was retreating in disorder. Here and there we met single Russian soldiers on the road, who were scared, many of them didn't have guns and for some reason were barefoot.

We also received an order to start moving directly towards the front. This was a cheerful message for the men. The plan to escape as soon as possible became even more clear. We began our attack around six in the morning. We were met by some cars, a vehicle behind a vehicle. It was sad to see all this fortune that these devils were taking out of Estonia. Especially maddening was the fact that half of these cars had Estonian and Latvian signs. Unavoidably I felt the wish to see German planes that would kick those vehicles out of their line. We didn't have to wait for long. We had been moving upstream about half an hour until we got the order to rest. I sat on the brink of the ditch with Lieutenant Kõlu to have a smoke. I looked at the sky and saw a 'bird'. I showed it to Kõlu, who screamed: 'Damn, it's a German plane!' I saw how five eggs were falling towards the ground quickly. Not more than 300 meters away an ammunition truck got hit. Terrible crackle and fireworks. The burning car stopped the whole traffic. This attack caused us a lot of trouble as well. The horses broke loose from the men's hands and ran away. The whole line was messed up. The carriage of the suitcases had flown into the ditch. I got my suitcase and it was fine. Estonians started to reload the suitcases, Russians had escaped to the forest. I went to look for them. I found about twenty of them. I made them go to the carriage in front of me. Then the German planes returned and it all happened again.

The men got the line in order, the carriage's broken shaft was fixed and we were able to move onwards. We moved in the forests and only the vehicle colon used the highway. We moved about ten kilometers forward without any interruptions. After a short break we were taken to one forest where my battalion was sent to protect the battalion's headquarters. I put the watch posts out and observed the landscape – from the point of view of escaping. We still had no ammunition. We protected the headquarters for 24 hours, then the squadron was sent to organize the overall defence, which was especially acceptable assignment and pleased us.

On the evening of the second day the better ones of us had a fierce battle 4 or 5 kilometers right from us. This was an anxious sight. The Germans used the burning bullets. Towards the morning the Russian squadron who had battled with the Germans retreated through our positions. Every moment we could have received an order to battle or retreat. I told the boys to hold their fire if an order to battle should come. If we're told to retreat, they should run to the forest. Around noon a nervously retreating Russian group ran out of the forest in front of us. The men had thrown away their guns, boots and were seriously running. It was bloody beautiful to see this type of invincible Red Army.

Before the evening I went swimming in the river, changed my underwear and shaved, which I last did in Estonia. I had told the Russians that I will do it again after the war has ended. Suddenly I heard the firing of machine guns from my left and one Ukrainian came with a message that they had shot a German Lieutenant and his driver, but the motorcyclist who was following them had got away. I went to check it out. According to the documents it appeared that the shot Lieutenant was Verner Martin.

Then we received the order to retreat. The squadron leader did not agree with my escaping plan. The units were ordered to move a kilometer towards the forest behind us, where the gathering point was. I went to my men and informed them of the situation and my intentions. Suddenly one Russian soldier came with a gun in his hand and promised to shoot every man who will not follow the order. With him was a Russian Lieutenant, who also had a gun in his hand. Something had probably made them anxious. They became calmer and we started to walk towards the colon. On our way the soldier told me that I have to see the Commissar tomorrow because I hit one Russian soldier. The thing was that I had hit one Russian who refused to carry a machine gun.

The men were organizing the colon and when it was in order, we started to move. We hoped that the circle had already closed around us. After a few hundred meters something broke in the carriage and the load had to be taken off to repair it. The Estonians unloaded the carriage very slowly for some reason and were replaced with Russians. It all still seemed more and more suspicious to them. It was already bright outside when we started moving again. We were planning to escape in the forest where we had been protecting the headquarters but the Russians took us to the highway from where we headed towards east.

We had been moving for a few hours when the enemy's planes made us go to the forest again. We were moving towards the village in front of us when suddenly the firing from artilleries began. Our retreating way was then cut off. The Russian soldier wanted to keep moving through the forest and the whole colon was headed that way. After crossing the highway and the ditch, the soldier went back to the colon and that was the last time I saw him. I had the squadron leader send the third group forward and then I sent my group. We started moving towards the front. I had 11 Estonians in my group. I let the squadron leader know about my intentions and asked him to come with. He shook his head and said his good-byes.

We were moving towards west. After one kilometer I made a stop and explained the situation to my boys. We moved onwards on the protection of the scouts. We crossed the highway before reaching one village and had to cross a river, which luckily wasn't very deep. As we moved forward I heard someone call me by my name and five boys came out of the bushes – escapees just like us. We moved forward together. During the day it was extremely hot outside, so we decided to rest in the forest and when the night came we would start searching for contact with the Germans. During moving forward I heard someone yell: 'Saimre!' I yelled back. I was crossing the woods and soon saw Captain Saimre, the battalion's senior adjutant, come my way. With him was writer Raudsepp. I felt great joy. We discussed the situation and found that it is unlikely that we will reach our homeland with our group. We had no food and moving in the Germans' homefront armed would have been dangerous. According to our calculations we were about 100 kilometers away from our homeland. Thus we thought the best idea would be to give ourselves in as war prisoners."

Changing Sides

"Captain Saimre stayed with the men, I took two men and went to search for contact with the Germans. I hoped to meet them after a few kilometers but when we had walked five kilometers, we hadn't met anyone. As we were moving onwards I heard someone talking but it was hard to make out in which language. Suddenly someone yelled: 'Stop!' This was probably meant for some driver. I took the scouts with me and went in the direction of this voice. I was quite close to the men and yelled in Estonian: 'Good evening!' Nothing better came to my mind. The men acknowledged us and the one with silver shoulder patches asked if I have a gun. I gave away my gun and the men gave away theirs. Then they wanted to know if there were more of us. When they got a positive reply, the Germans offered us cigarettes but we couldn't really make any conversation – every second word in my mouth was in Russian.

A young man named Tuvikene went to look for Saimre, but came back soon and said he didn't find them. Then we were told to go to the village where the gathering place was. It was getting lighter when we saw three Russian aircrafts in the sky. It was a beautiful summer morning. The Germans were hiding. We, as gallant as we were, were walking in the middle of the road. There were no bombs thrown and the Germans were staring at us and probably wondered who the hell are those guys who are not afraid of the planes.

After walking a few kilometers we reached the village. From there we were led to the Karamõshova railway station, which was said to be 10 kilometers away. Soon a motorcyclist reached us with a message that the rest of our men have been found and are following us. Soon Captain Saimre came on a motorcycle. The German gave me a lift and we got to our destination. Soon other men arrived. There the Estonians and Russians were separated. The cars came after a few hours and we were taken to Ostrov. We saw burned houses, destroyed villages, crushed Russian tanks and the ruins of 30 Russian planes in Pihkva airport. In Ostrov we saw a large number of Estonians and the squadron leader Kõlu, who had stayed behind, was already there too. I heard that our great communist Liivak was there as well. I went to see him. The man looked sad on his sleeping place and I felt sorry for him. He said that he hadn't harmed anyone and he had destroyed his party ticket. If his own men won't give him away, he would have some hope to escape alive."