Paul Maitla Back on the Front

On January 2, after having a vacation, Paul Maitla fell ill. He was taken to hospital in Tartu where he remained until the end of February. Thus he was unable to participate in cleaning the Narva river's west bank. The Estonian 20th SS Division, accompanied by the eastern battalions of Rebane and Sooden, was brought to Narva front and was reorganized. In April 1944 the division's 47th Regiment was formed. Harald Riipalu became the leader of the 45th Regiment and the leader of its 1st Battalion was Paul Maitla, who in the meantime had been promoted to Captain.

We were standing on the edge of central events in Estonia and in the whole world. The Narva front stood in silence from March to June. But everyone could guess that the war theatre's main performance would be given in Estonia soon. If we take a look at the war map of the summer of 1944 in Narva area (on the image), then we can see real threats on the first sight. The defence standing on the Narva river line was faced by the Russian 2nd Attack Army. At the same time the middle part of the river was crossed by the Russian 8th Army, which formed the so-called Krivasoo pocket. The more correct term, which has already been mentioned, would have been Krivasoo bridgehead, which was threatening to become a real pocket to the units battling near Narva. The intelligence unit gave them information that besides Krivasoo bridgehead, two Russian attack divisions and a large number of armored vehicles had also been captured. The enemy was expected to attack from Auvere.

The whole world was ripped apart and each event meant nothing other to us than the Red Army's unavoidable attack to Estonia. On June 6 the western allies landed in Normandy and the German Atlantic Wall collapsed. This wall didn't really exist, there were only propagandistic rumors of its existence. In addition, an attentat was organized to Hitler in Rastenburg's Wolf Cave, which showed that Germany was ripped apart on the inside. Viiburi was conquered and the Finns began peace negotiations with Russia. The Eastern Front had reached the territories of Latvia and Lithuania. All this meant a disaster for Estonia but it probably gave the men some kind of special will to try to prevent it. The German leaders' plan to shorten the Narva front was known: the units will retreat from Narva line to the shorter Auvere-Sinimäed Hills-Mummussaare line, which was called the Tannenberg line. Already hearing that they had to give their land away caused a lot of distress to Estonians but it was probably the only possible way.

The quick reorganization of the units began. Riipalu's 45th Regiment, which's 1st Battalion leader was Maitla, was brought from Narva river line to Auvere and it replaced parts of the German 26th Division. Riipalu's regiment also received the Battalion Narva, which was toughened on the Eastern Front. This way the regiment's strength was around 2,800 men. On June 24 at 5 a.m. the Auvere battle began with the Russians' high-powered cannon firing. A lot has been written on that. The Russians had gathered about 130,000 men there with a large number of war technology: tanks, cannons, aircrafts. So each Riipalu's men had to face more than 46 Russian soldiers. Right before the battle day arrived, Riipalu had received a letter from SS Panzer Corps leader Steiner, which ended with the words: "Stand and be strong because justice and God are with you!" Justice was on Riipalu and Maitla's side. So was God.

Riipalu wrote the following about the night before the battle: "The protectors of Auvere were like burglars who stepped into the hiding hole that night and their stiff muscles were filled with strength and will, they were prepared to rise every second, ready to battle to life and death, feeling an ancient command in every heartbeat – to battle!" Hundreds of protectors and thousands of attackers were left dead on the battlefield during a few hours.17 attackers' tanks were destroyed, 8 enemy's planes were shot down. Maitla's message to Riipalu has been mentioned in several occasions when this battle has been desribed: "There are so many enemies that we cannot hold them back anymore. They simply go through us. Please send the tanks!" The tanks came and Russians retreated.

Raiend wrote the following about Maitla's participation in the Auvere battle: "Maitla's ability to lead, will to resist and determination were especially acknowledged on July 24 in Auvere battle. The enemy's tank attack with 29 tanks and aircrafts rolled over Maitla men's defence line in some places and a group of Russian infantry men almost reached Maitla's headquarters. Maitla gathered nine men around him, took them personally to a counterattack and destroyed the enemy's infantry soldiers. A bit later came the anti-tank group, which had been defending the division's headquarters, with 'stove pipes' and a few cannons. Maitla immediately sent them against the tanks and destroyed several enemy's armored vehicles." This battle was an introduction to Maitla's (on the right) much more serious tribulation.