What Had Happened

According to the Soviet Union's intelligence by February 20, 1944 they had left about 100,000 men, 1,500 cannons, 100 tanks and an attack cannon on the Narva front for resistance. But now we know that on January 14 the attack started with 1,241,000 men who had 21,600 cannons, 1,475 tanks and 1,500 aircrafts, the relation of these numbers is so intimidating that the knower of this data should have lost all sort of battle spirit. True – this gigantic army did not reach Narva on time but this does not have any significance. Keeping the front under Narva seemed as hopeless as it seemed for the Finnish to go against a trained army with 5 million men while they had only a few hundred thousand men in the Winter War.

What were the real factors of this war miracle? The Finns don't know and can't answer to that. Also the 70,000 dead and still living Estonians don't know the answer. Even the best military experts cannot answer. One answer is the hero of this text, Paul Maitla, and what he did. But we will get to that later. What happened before we get to see Paul Maitla in action in Auvere and in Sinimäed Hills? Before the great attack Major Alfons Rebane was on the east bank of the Volkhov river, north of Novgorod. What he did in the retreating battle under Sürkovo and Vaskovo goes to the golden fund of war strategy and tactic. And it shows how protecting home gets the best of you. Military miracles are born from experiences. Rebane's battalion acted under Sürkovo by breaking all well-known battle rules. The men were positioned hiding behind the dirt piles of the railway outside Sürkovo. They were expecting the Russians to make this dirt pile the starting point of their attack but it was from there where Rebane and his battalion destroyed the whole Russian division. The battle under Vaskovo was a little different. It was harder for Rebane than the one near Sürkovo. The irons of the machine guns were burning hot. Hundreds of attackers were killed. With these battles the Russians attack to Estonia was stopped. They lost their initial attacking power and our land got to prepare for the Second War of Independence.


And then by February 2 the Red Army men had reached the Narva river line and crossed it from several places. Extremely dangerous bridgeheads were formed on the west bank of the river, the bigger ones were under Riigiküla and near Vaasa-Vepsküla-Siiverts. The latter was situated north of Narva and was extremely dangerous to the protectors of the town. The Krivasoo bridgehead was equally dangerous. Death was heading straight to the heart of Estonia. What happened from 1940 to 1941 was very soon going to happen again.

It was on that exact moment when Prime Minister and the man who was performing the President's duties, Jüri Uluots, made a statement: We either cooperate with the Germans or fall into great misery. More precisely his speech was as follows: "Us, Estonians, have the right to decide how and with whom our self-defence is the most effective. Each self-defence has a purpose for what it's being performed. We prove publicly and directly to the whole world that we, Estonians, protect our nation's existence, our ancient home and the freedom of our people. The War of Independence continues now. In more different and complex historical conditions than the previous one. Not the slaves and not professional soldiers, but a small sober Northern nation battles for its home and its freedom now. It is a slander and an offence if someone says or thinks differently."

The units under Narva were separated from the 18th Army and renamed as the Army Group Narva. From that moment on Narva became a battle symbol. Just like it had been during the First War of Independence. The battles that didn't happen in 1939 happened now on that exact place. It was right here – protecting the Narva river line, later retreating to Tannenberg line – where great deeds were done and where the Estonian men brought honor to the war. The Russians Vaasa-Vepsküla-Siiverts bridgehead, which was protected by a number of wire barriers and mine fields, was a threat to Narva front. When the recapturing of it started on March 1, the attack failed at first. The land around the men was boiling and frothing. The Russians' "Katyushas" were making a loud noise in between the cannon fires. The cannon shots cut the forest into two behind the men like a giant scythe. The attackers were tried to be cut off from communication, food and ammunition bearers. It was a total hell! When they reached the enemy's ditches, the officers who had led the attack, Rõõmussaar and Lumera, were hit.

It seemed like everything was over. Then the 22-year-old Junior Officer, Harald Nugiseks, took over leading the attack. 20 men attacked and soon they reached the enemy's trenches. What came next was similar to what Rebane had done with his men. The men who came from behind passed on the hand grenades to the ones in front. When they reached the corner of the trench, Nugiseks ordered his men to throw the grenades over the corner. They rolled. As soon as they heard the explosion, the men quickly went over the corner. There were dead enemies but some were alive too and ready to reach for the gun. Their lives were ended by a submachine gun. New firings, new grenades. The enemy's missile splinters were whistling through the air, explosions, no one understood who was the enemy and who wasn't. Nugiseks was trapped under falling dirt three times. And three times his men pulled him out. The battle continued.

And then the battled ended. About one thousand hand grenades had been thrown to the enemy's firing nests, more than 80 Russian soldiers who were sent to conquer Estonia like in 1918 and 1940 were now lying in the dirt and clay in the trenches. They were facing the men who hadn't heard General Laidoner's battle order no 1 but still committed it without an order. The terms were right to conquer the Vaasa-Siiverts-Vepsküla bridgehead. It is the least we have found out about the soldiers through the written data. We also know that it was the tip of the iceberg. Hundreds and thousand of soldiers' heroic deeds took place, which could and should be discussed if we only knew more about it. What Rebane did with his "fox-cubs" Nugiseks repeated with 20 men. If this hadn't have happened nor its sequel, the Narva front would have been broken.