The Battle in Southern Estonia

The Russians had changed their strategy in conquering Estonia. Because the Sinimäed Hills turned out to be invincible, they decided to attack from south and give the main attack from Tartu’s direction. A large number of units were gathered. In the breakthrough area the relation of men was 4,3 time bigger among the attackers, the same numbers in cannons and mine throwers was 14,8 and in armored technology 4,1 times, all in favor of the attackers. One by one Petseri and Võru were conquered and soon they reached south of Tartu County.

It is possible, but unlikely, that the war historians will one day put this mess around Tartu in August and September in some kind of logical order. The men were sent there in a chaotic tide to protect Tartu. There were German units, the battle groups of Rebane, Vent, Degrelle, the Finnish Boys of Voldemar Pärlin, border guard regiments, Self-Defence members… without direct leading, although General Wagner should have led them. Maitla went there on August 18 in the lines of Kampfgruppe Vent. On August 19 he was already in Kambja, in his old home parish. On the land where he had been moving as a youngster.

We don’t know much about Maitla’s performance in these battles. We only know what Valdek Raiend wrote in his series of articles. There are the memories of Willian Partell, who resides in Australia. "I was the driver of Major Riipalu’s Regiment’s headquarters on the Narva front in summer 1944," wrote Partell. "We received an order to go to Tartu as quickly as possible. There I was appointed to Captain Maitla’s headquarters’ driver’s position. Captain Maitla’s unit mostly had young conscripts who had lousy training. They also lacked the overview of the situation on the front." (Actually no one had a good overview of the situation in this chaos – the author of this text)

"Captain Maitla ordered me and Sergeant Major Lehtmets to drive towards Kambja to determine the enemy’s positions. We were both from Kambja and knew the area well. On our way towards the south we met one of our acquaintance, a farmer, from whom we heard that the Russians were in Pangod forest. We drover to Tartu and back and reported this to Maitla. Our unit was immediately sent near Tatra river, the forester’s house behind the Reola schoolhouse became the location of the headquarters. The Russians were gathering their units south of Tatra river. In the morning of August 23, between 6 and 7 a.m., the Russian attack began. Because a proper road for a car was missing, Captain Maitla walked to lead the battle. Since we didn’t have any heavy weapons, the Germans sent their men there with heavy weapons. But once the battle began, Germans ran away with weapons. The next thing we saw was that the Russians crossed the track behind us, which connected us to Tatra-Võru highway. When the Russian infantry had crossed the road, we took the headquarters quickly behind the Russians with a car. This way we reached Reola schoolhouse where we waited for the ones left behind. But only a small number of men arrived. The others had probably been imprisoned.One of the men who came after us said that Captain Maitla was wounded and they had no chance to bring him out. We then organized a small group of men and brought Captain Maitla out and took him to Tartu’s hospital."

What happened in Kambja, is quite unclear. Where and how Maitla injured his shoulder is unknown. There are only guesses. Some have even claimed that he could have been shot from behind. One thing is clear – he was quite beaten after what happened under Tartu. He almost lost his will to live. What happened near Tartu was not a war anymore. There was no organized resistance against the Red Army. There were only the heroic deaths of Léon Degrelle’s Walloons and Voldemar Pärlin’s Finnish Boys. Generalobert Steiner’s statement did not make this spontaneous event into a win: "One Walloon is worth a thousand other soldiers." Nor was Degrelle’s claim that the Russians lost the Tartu battle any more helpful. The battle under Tartu was lost already before it began. As a solider and officer, Paul Maitla really wanted to stop the enemy but this did not happen. And all this took place in his home, from where he went to the war in autumn 1941, full of noble intentions. Disappointment. But Maitla got over it like many times before. But at that moment this impulsive person was in deep depression.