The Last Battle

Paul Maitla's recovering period stopped before the end of the year. On December 20 he went to Neuhammer where the Division was being trained, just like the men were promised at the Hillbrich café. By that time the Estonian 20th SS Division, which for some reason was called the grenadier division, had been recreated. The oath had been taken again. The division had three regiments: the 45th, the 46th and the 47th. In addition it had an artillery unit and a reserve regiment. Neuhammer, where Maitla arrived, was a giant training camp with huge fields, barracks and other buildings near Sagen in East Germany. In the past men were trained there to conquer France. There were still pieces of the Maginot line. The Estonian men were to be trained there until April 1, 1945.

Paul Maitla was at first appointed to lead the 1st Battalion of the 45th Regiment, which was led by his old fellow from the battles, Harald Riipalu. But the division did not get a chance to be trained until February, March or April. The God of War, Mars, needed them earlier and they were acceptable to him just as they were. Just as the Red army's great attack had began towards Narva on January 14, 1944, it now repeated itself a year later on Oder river. Its beginning was on January 12, 1945. By January 19 they conquered Krakow, on January 21 the Red Army's tanks were in Breslau, Oder. By January 23 the enemy's advance guards reached Oppeln where dangerous bridgeheads were established on the west bank of the river, just like one year ago on the west bank of Narva river. Therefore Paul Maitla didn't have much time to get used with the new battalion. The front needed men for protection and counterattacks. On January 20, when it was clear that the enemy will not stop after conquering Krakow, the Estonian Division received an order to prepare for the front.

In the evening of January 22 Riipalu's regiment and its equipment were loaded on a train and the journey to Oppeln began. We can find out about Paul Maitla battalion's war journey to Oppeln from the memoirs of battalion's communication leader Lieutenant Alfred Saar. "The battalion reached Love station in the early morning of January 23. After the battalion was unloaded, during the time they had left the station, the arrived Russians began to shoot the station with grenade throwers. The battalion continued to move away from the station in snowstorm and severe cold. They had to pass 30 kilometers on foot to reach Oppeln district. In the evening of the same day the battalion took its positions in the west side of Oppeln. Alfred Saar, as the communication leader, stayed on the fire line with the battalion leader. When the darkness arrived, the Russians began to force the Estonians out. Groups of men began to move from the town towards the woods about 300 meters away. Maitla went there with one of the headquarters officers to organize a protection. Saar remained on his position to communicate with the division. They found out that the Russians were already in the buildings next to them. The communication was cut off and Saar took his men through the deep snow to the protective forest. The battalion leader was glad to see his communication leader. He had already thought he won't see him alive again."

That was the beginning of the battles in a foreign country for Paul Maitla (on the photo). To him it was the same war with Russians-bolshevists who had wanted to conquer Estonia for hundreds of years and who in the beginning of the 1940s showed extreme barbarism. The war under Oppeln was anyway strange because they really didn't have proper positions. They only had security positions, discontinuous front lines, which were the causes of several pockets. The Russian attacks, which began at the end of January, ended in the middle of February. They were unable to break through the Estonian Division front. Besides the division had destroyed several bridgeheads on the west bank of Oder.

The silence, which began in mid-February, was interrupted by the Estonians twice on February 24 – the anniversary of the repulic. This was done by both Knight's Cross recipients – Rebane and Maitla. Rebane conquered the Mittenwalde village on that day, which had been taken by the Russians. This daredevil attack killed more than one hundred Russians. In addition to other things, they took three cannons with 50 missiles and sent them back to Russians on the same night. Easy come, easy go. Maitla wasn't any worse than Rebane. He organized a 25-men attack group on February 24 who attacked the Schedlau village near Falkenberg with attack guns and hand grenades. He destroyed the whole enemy's infantry battalion and, like Rebane, lost only two men who were wounded. The next day Maitla's driver Mägar went to see the village, which's streets were covered with dead bodies. The men had done good job. Maitla was at first quarreled about this attack because it was performed without the consent of higher leaders, but then he was praised for doing it so well.

In the meantime there were some changes made in the division's board. The 45th Regiment leader Riipalu had been hospitalized. Susi claimed that there was something wrong with his heart and this became fatal to him when he was 50 years old. The division Commander Augsberger appointed a German to replace Riipalu – Oberstrumbannführer (a Lieutenant Colonel to us) Störtz – who, according to Raiend, was wounded on the same day, January 25. Then Maitla was appointed to the regiment leader's position. But somewhere someone thought that Maitla's Captain's rank was too low for a regiment leader's position. It didn't matter that he had the Knight's Cross. Then one Eastern Battalion drunk, Sturmbannführer Julius Ellandi, was appointed to this position according to Susi. This one was the regiment leader for three days and was drunk the whole time. Maitla was again appointed to this position and remained there until the end of the war. The dates of all these appointments can be inaccurate. But does it have some significant meaning? At the end of the war the German accuracy lost its place and all became one huge mess. In the next chapter we will try to give as much information as possible based on the database.

Nobody Wants to Die on the Last Page

After the attacks on the republic's anniversary a time of resting became. It was a relative silence until March 10. Good things were said about the Estonian Division. Augsberger received the Knight's Cross for organizing defence battles and destroying several Russian bridgeheads on Oder. The Russians started to attack again around March 10. The situation of the Estonians became more than critical on Oppeln front. The Russian units were moving passed the division from right and left without meeting notable resistance. So it happened that the division was pulled into a pocket, a double pocket even, which's base was about 20 kilometers. The merciless destruction of the men trapped in the pocket began. Yet the division managed to break out. But all heavy weapons were left behind. In retreating from Oppeln, Maitla and his men helped to keep the pocket's mouth open so that the units in the back could come through. After leaving the front he probably immediately concentrated on the most narrow and dangerous part of the pocket, reached it on time and organized a defence. His inseparable adjutant Laasi was by his side as always. What's more, Maitla kicked the Russians out of the Zieghals village, which helped to keep the pocket open.

The new gathering place of the division was the district of Bolkenheim and Hirschberg. What happened next was the third reorganizing of the division. Basically there had been even more reorganizations. The first was when the division was formed from October 1, 1942 until May 5, 1943 under the Estonian Legion name. In 1944, before the big battles on Narva front, the division was supplemented with the Eastern Battalions and this can be called the second reorganizing, or supplementing. Then the division was called the Estonian 20th Volunteer SS Division. It was followed by a complete reorganizing in Neuhammer, which we just witnesses and now again in Hirschberg and Bolkenheim in March. Around that time, probably on April 20, Maitla was promoted from Hauptsturmführer to Sturmbannführer – from Captain to Major. Maitla's driver Arnold Mägar remembers this promotion: "There were four rhombs on Maitla's collar patches, this meant Sturmbannführer or Major." The newly reorganized division was sent to the front northeast of Hirschberg, in Schönau district, on April 15. It was a peaceful front area and there were no battles.