SS-Sturmbannführer Georg Aleksander Sooden
Georg Sooden's father, Madis Sooden, had left the Aavere manor in Koeru parish as a young man and went to work as a policeman in Helsinki, Finland. He was married to a Finnish-Swede Alina Eklund. Their first son was born in 1903 in Helsinki, his name was Gunnar August. On December 2, 1904 the family had the second son, who was named Georg Aleksander. In 1907 Gunnar August died. After the older son's death, the father took Georg and his mother back to Estonia, to Jõhvi. The father became a patrolman (kardavoi) and the mother began work in Jõhvi hospital as the midwife.
Georg studied at the Jõhvi grade school, which he graduated in 1917. He dreamt of becoming a soldier as a young boy. Georg tried to join the army during the battles of the First War of Independence after the Estonian 1st Division had freed Jõhvi on January 15, 1919. He wasn't accepted in the army because he was only 14 years old. In 1924 Georg graduated the 3rd class of Jõhvi Gymnasium. He then followed his father's lead and worked in Jõhvi police station as a clerical office officer.
In 1925 he was called to the compulsory military service in the 4th Infantry Regiment, which was later formed into the 4th Single Infantry Battalion. After the service Georg went to the Estonian Military School. After graduating in 1927 his service as a Junior Lieutenant began. For a short time he was the leader of the National Defence League's Jõhvi brigade. On February 22, 1933 he began his service as the Junior Lieutenant at the National Defence League's Viru brigade. In 1934 he was appointed to the brigade instructor's position.
In 1930s Georg changed his last name to Sooden (Estification). In the meantime he served as the Lieutenant in the 4th Single Infantry Battalion from August 10, 1938 until February 7, 1939. After this he was sent to the Viru brigade and became its instructor. On April 27, 1940 he was released from his service. He was then violently mobilized to the Red Army and on July 28, 1941 he surrendered to the Germans. In the middle of August 1941 the Viru Self-Defence units' headquarters received a circular letter from the German authorities, which announced of the formation of the Estonian volunteer battalions. The service was said to take place in the rear and only in Estonia. The applications were handed out in the recruiting places. After filling in the application, the applicant received and invite to arrive to the soon-to-be-formed unit. That was how Georg Sooden joined the Estonian Security Group 184.
The Security Group included the 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th Groups, which all had around 200 men. The gathering place of the units was Narva. There they announced that the group will be taken to Russia. The men got to choose either to go back home or go to Russia with the group. The service in Russia was said to last for one year. Many men left from the unit because they didn't like this sudden change. Georg and hundreds of others remained. The men received weapons in the Hermann Castle and there the basic training took place. Each man got to choose a weapon from the ones taken from the Russians. When everyone was equipped and armed, the group began its journey to Russia on foot. On September 12 they reached Jamburg, where they stayed at Czar-time barracks, which's windows were broken. A part of the group was then sent to watchkeeping service in Kotlõ. The men were no longer trained.
In January 1942 Georg was sent to the 14th group, which was merged with the small 16th group. Georg was appointed to the unit leader's position. Before this he had been the security group's adjutant in the headquarters in Jamburg. As the group leader he was described as modest and calm.
At the beginning of February, the 14th group was in coast guard service. It was then taken to the Tshisto-Palkino front 40 to 50 kilometers east of Tosno railway station. In the group's front area was a swamp, which was marked on the map as Makarovskaja pustõn. The nearest settlement was the Shapki village. Behind the group's area were the ruins of a convent, which was marked on the map as Klosterdorf. That's where Georg got his first battle experience. The area was 1,5 kilometers wide. Half of the group's men were out at the same time. Because of the cold and swampy ground they were unable to dig trenches. The men were lying on the ground on mats made of fir branches. A change was made after every four hours. The intelligence of the Red Army was extremely intense. The Russians crossed the Estonian posts each night, sometimes even catching them. The encounters became more and more frequent, but the Russians always lost because the Estonians were very alert. One night a bigger group of Russians passed the Estonian strongholds. The ski marks were clearly seen in the morning. The 12-men group was sent out who caught the Russians by a surprise attack and got 2 officers and 48 soldiers as prisoners. The squad leader received the Iron Cross and the 14th group's actions were acknowledged in the army corps commander's ordinance.
One time a Russian group reached the Estonian post, where two Estonian soldiers were on guard. The Russians got very close undercover. The Estonians tried to retreat while shooting. One managed to do so, the other was caught by the Russians. The gun firing alarmed the other men. The caught Estonian escaped from the Russians and ran back. The Russians were hit by a hail of machine gun fire and escaped. The leader of the 265th Division, to whom the 184th Security Group was subjected to, gave an order to Georg in the middle of April to bring some prisoners from the enemy's side. Sergeant Major Enno Ots was voluntarily ready to fulfill this task. The volunteers started moving in darkness. The Russians had sent an intelligence group in front of their positions and the Estonians had a gunplay with them. Six Russians were killed and two survivors were taken as prisoners.
When the weather got warmer, the whole swamp turned into an impassable lake. At the end of May 1942 the battling became less frequent. The German units replaced the group and the leader of the 303rd Infantry Regiment, to which the group was subjected to, came to send the Estonians away personally. 10 men from the group had been killed and 25 were hospitalized. Nevertheless, more than 100 men were in the line in addition to other officials. At the beginning of June the group was loaded on a train in Ljuban and went to Ust-Luga. Later when the Security Groups were renamed as Eastern Battalions, Georg battled in the lines of the 659th Eastern Battalion. In May 1943 he became the leader of the battalion after the former leader, Paul Paas, had left because of his health.
After being in the battles north of Novgorod, near the Hutõn convent, the battalion was taken near the Russian bridgehead on the height of Podberezje village near Novgorod-Tshudovo highway and to the corner positions on the upper course of Volkhov. The bridgehead had stayed there since the Volkhov battles, the Russians were never beaten back over Volkhov, what's more, the bridgehead had expanded during the year. To neutralize the bridgehead, the Germans had to bring in the 19th Latvian SS Volunteer Division. Manning the long front line caused the battalion a lot of difficulties. The front was marked by sparsely situating shooting nests. Groups of Russians often sneaked passed the Estonians, this was made easier by the closed landscape near the river and high grass. Thus there were smaller close combats. The situation became extremely intense in the autumn. The autumn rain made the area near Volkhov impassable, trenches became ditches and shelters became wells. The situation wasn't any better in Rebane's battalion's area, which was on the right of Sooden's battalion. In late autumn the battalion was replaced by the 28th Jäger Division (the so-called fire-brigade division), which came from Leningrad front. For the first time the Estonians witnessed the work of the Germans new weapon MG-42.
October 16, 1943 Georg received the Iron Cross for his bravery in the battles and was promoted to Captain. With his great authority, soldier-like composure and demand for order his inferiors called him with names like "our oldie", "old Jüri", "old bogy". The battalion was sent back to Novgorod, where it took the positions south of Jurjevo convent, near Ilmjärve Lake, the battalion's headquarters was located in Vana-Rakoma (Staraja Rakoma) village. At first this part of the line seemed to be peaceful. The river and its mouth were not completely frozen yet. Some time before Christmas the battalion was renamed as the Estonian Battalion 659 (Estnische Batallion 659).
Around Christmas the battalion was visited by the Estonian People's United Help (ERÜ) entertainment group, which was led by the ERÜ leader Otto Leesment and which included the representatives of the ERÜ district departments Miss Lepp from Torma, Miss Sellis from Pärnu and singers Lepik, Proso and Sander from "Estonia" and Tallinn's broadcasting. The delegation brought gifts to Sooden's and Rebane's battalions from the homeland. Minister Toomas Põld was brought to give the Christmas sermon. It took place in Novgorod Kremlin.
The cold had already frozen the neck of Lake Ilmjärv and the throat of Volkhov. The men had to be more alert because the Russians were noticed to be more active and preparing for something. In the morning of January 14, 1944, when the clearness of the stars was fading, a threatening thunder was heard from the distance. Thousands of missiles flew towards German positions. The Russians came over the neck of Lake Ilmjärv so close together that the ice of the lake seemed to be black. The Russians could not use their cannon units in this part of the front, but it was replaced by grenade throwers fire, which was so intense that the missiles seemed to be flying like the rain from the sky. The Estonians failed to stop the Russian infantry. The Russians came like an avalanche through sparse defence lines and Russian Marschall Meretskov's army managed to break out of the Volkhov bridgehead, through the same part where a few months ago the 658th and 659th battalion had been. The other Red Army's wedge crossed the neck of Lake Ilmjärv near Vana-Rakoma village, where the 659th battalion was, with the assignment to pass Novgorod from north and south, then surround the town and destroy it.
Immediately wooden houses were set on fire. The fire lighted the battle. The Estonian and Russian soldiers were mixed into one compact mass in the most heated parts of the attack. It was hard to tell the difference between own and foreign men. Many Estonian boys didn't even get the chance to put their boots on, so they handled the guns in the snow barefoot and retreated the same way. It was actually prohibited with an ordinance to take off the boots. Georg figured at first that it was the enemy's local attack – a surprise hike – and sent only one reserve unit out to see the situation. Before the unit managed to forward any kind of message to the headquarters, the Russians had already reached the headquarters and the headquarters was forced to make a way to its unit, which they managed to do. Several hours later the suffered battalion managed to put a break on the attack a few kilometers behind the Red Army's attack. The 658th and 659th battalions were merged there.
These positions were taken only to catch a breath. Two battalions soon continued to retreat towards west. Estonian Battalion 659 helped Alfons Rebane's battalion and thanks to Rebane's energetic organizing they managed to consolidate the front with one German battalion. It was the 58th Jäger Regiment (with oak leave symbol) with good equipment and outstanding battle morale.
The 658th and 659th battalion received an order to remain in Vashkovo village as they were moving along the Luuga highway. On January 22 they had a protection battle in the village with Meretskov army's shooters' division. Only a few artillery batteries were in Vashkovo and near it. The Estonians had not yet been so alone on the Eastern Front. The Russians approached the village along an empty field. They were everywhere. Their cannons were shooting the village, but the infantry soldiers' fire were not close enough to kill. The Estonians, sparsely positioned, waited with fingers on the triggers. The German artillery aimed well this time and the grenades exploded right in the middle of the Russians. The Red Army soldiers were so close to each other that each missile caused them loss.
Eventually the Russians' nerves gave up, they jumped up and ran towards the village, but they were not shooting nor screaming "hurray". Now the Estonians began to fire. The fire was intense and heated, the first lines of Russians fell, but behind them came the next lines. German mortars were aiming right in front of the Estonians and in the middle of Russians. Now Russians began to shoot from submachine guns and the lines of men in the back climbed over the first dead bodies and then fell themselves. There was only the cracking of the missiles, the snapping of shooting and the screaming of the Russians.
Then the fields were quiet – there were no more attacking Russians. Estonians didn't lose a single soldier, the two battalions only lost a car full of wounded men. They got 14 prisoners, who confirmed during the interrogation that a 3,000-men division was sent to attack Vashkovo. But there was more than 3,000 dead bodies in Vashkovo, so go figure the Slavish "accuracy". As a result of this attack the Red Army became less powerful. Before the enemy's next attempt to attack the Germans used the short break to retreat from Novgorod front. Because they managed to stop the Red Army near Vashkovo, the 5th and 18th Army's main forces were set free from the Leningrad and Volkhov fronts and could break loose from the trailing Red Army and head towards Pihkva. Major Rebane was the first Estonian to receive the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross for this battle.
After the Vashkovo battle a rumor was spreading in the army corps headquarters that one of the 659th Battalion companies had run away from the front. One German captain from the headquarters was sent to clarify this rumor. He was convinced on the spot that the rumors had no ground. The 5th Company, led by Lieutenant A. Nuude, was sent to the battalion's reserve during Vashkovo battle and was in the village the whole time. Since the battle took a positive turn for the Estonians, the 5th Company was not needed in the battle. According to Sooden's and Rebane's explanation, as a result Sooden's battalion got rid of the German liaison officer, who was unpleasant and interrupted into every event and who had been behind this rumor.
Soon the Red Army tanks passed Vashkovo from two sides. But the Estonians were the last ones to leave, covering at first the front so that the Germans could retreat their units from the front. Rebane's and Sooden's men were loaded on cars. Stopping here and there the Russian tanks were always behind them. The 659th Battalion stopped south of Torchinovo. Here the "Old Bogy" beat the Russians out from one village, which they had conquered, and "cleared the air" behind the front a bit. The 658th and 659th battalion had defence battles with the Red Army from February 1 until February 7 near one of the stations of the Leningrad-Dno railway and occasionally helped the Germans. During beating back the Red Army's great attacks and in retreating battles in the front areas in Volkhov, Lake Ilmjärv and Novgorod, people soon started talking about the famous "Sooden battalion" or "Sooden's men".
After leaving Torchinovo the retreat became "normal". The men had time to choose their positions and prepare. Traps were set up for the Russians and sometimes they were caught in the pocket. In these cases the losses of the Red Army were severe. At first they retreated in Luuga's direction, but when the Red Army cut off this road, the new retreating direction was Dno-Porhov. The following retreat was very intense – a hiking trip during the night and battles during the day. They almost had no chance to rest. The battalion had to operate often while being separated from other units and sometimes was trapped in a pocket.
Bad news came from the homeland – the Russians were reaching Narva. Major Rebane gave adjutant Valdur Jürissaar an order to compose a report. It was meant for the leader of Army Group Nord. In the report Rebane asked to release the Estonians from their current service and send to their homeland. General Speth, to whom the report was meant, gave his consent. Later a consent was also received from the leader of Army Group Nord with a message that the 658th Battalion was subjected to the Army Group Narva. The 659th and 660th Battalions were allowed to return home too. Sooden's battalion received a permission to return to homeland in the second half of February. On February 21 Estonian battalions reached Pihkva. They waited for the train for a week to get back home. They left Pihkva on February 28. The battalion had about 200 men left.
The battalion's first stop after Pihkva was in Valga. There they breathed the air of the homeland after a long time, they were glad and enjoyed the hospitality of the loved ones, friends and acquaintances. The men were in good spirits – they painted "Leibstandarte Sooden" with capital letters on their leader Georg Sooden's wagon. The next stop was in Tartu and next they arrived to Jõhvi on March 1. The men noticed that during 2,5 years the battles had made a huge circle around Lake Peipsi. The 658th and 659th Battalion marched from Jõhvi to forest camp in Toila. The men hoped that they can rest there for a short period of time. Unfortunately this didn't happen. On the next day, March 2, the 658th and 659th Battalion received an order to go to Putki area, where the swamp must be cleaned from Red Army units, which had passed the Germans' positions, and restore the previous situation.
The Red Army had began a great attack the previous day in Putki swamp. The Germans' situation in that area was difficult. So the last reserves of the Army Group Narva were sent there – the battalions of Rebane and Sooden. The men's fighting spirit was high because this was their first battle on the homeland. When the Estonians reached the front, the situation was complex and a firm front line was missing. According to the order the 658th and 659th Battalion moved on either sides of the road towards Putki village, but soon encountered the Red Army's guard units. The battalion began to repel the enemy and as a result Sooden's battalion reached the forester's house of Apsaare and Lalli, Rebane's battalion almost reached Putki. Soon the battle noises passed them and it became clear that both battalions were surrounded in a pocket, which was a part of a bigger pocket. Rebane got in contact with the German battle group leader, Major von Gramm, who was surrounded nearby. At the same time both battalions had to beat back the Red Army's units, which were almost the size of a regiment. The connection with the regiment was lost, but the radio connection with the division still worked. On March 4 the 658th Battalion broke out of the pocket to Putki village.
Sooden's battalion firmly kept the surrounded positions. The actions of the battalions of Rebane and Sooden made the Red Army destroy the surrounded units instead of continuing its attack, and therefore lost a lot of time. However, this enabled the Germans to organize counterattacks, which resulted in the Red Army's attack being stopped and Sooden's battalion being released from the pocket. In the future Rebane's and Sooden's battalion were in this area as reserve units. After the battle of Putki the battalions had only 110 men. The battalions were subjected to the 2nd Estonian Border Guard Regiment, but this unit was only allowed to use the battalions on the consent of the division leader. From the beginning of the retreat under Novgorod these men had not seen a soap or clean underwear for three months, a lot of men's underwear was rottening. All men, including Captain Sooden, had lice. They needed a vacation.
In April Rebane's and Sooden's battalion was taken to Anija. The formation of the 47th SS Grenadier Regiment took place there and these battalions were supposed to be the basis of this regiment. The regiment was subjected to the 20th (1st Estonian) SS Grenadier Division. That's how Georg Sooden became SS-Hauptsrumführer. The men were against being transferred to the Waffen-SS. They had been battling under Wehrmacht for a long time and had gone used to it. The 47th Regiment's 1st Battalion was the Estonian Battalion 659 and the 2nd Battalion was the Estonian Battalion 658. The Regiment leader was SS-Obersturmbannführer Paul Vent, sent there from the 45th Regiment.
By April 24, 1944 the first two battalions of the 47th Regiment were formed, but most men didn't have new Waffen-SS uniforms. They received those during the next few months. Sooden's battalion received additional men from those who were mobilized. One of Sooden's most favored officers and his best friend was the 2nd company leader Lieutenant Raul Jüriado, who was almost 2 meters tall, which brought him the nickname "Tiny", hated the helmet. If the situation allowed, he took it off and said: "The Ivans are not that good friends of mine that I should decorate my head as their target. I'd rather move in the trench in a squatting position or show my ass to them!" Tiny became popular as a brave battle officer and as a joker, singer and a man of shindig. He used women jokingly in the Anija mansion during the reorganizing. According to some memories Georg already felt in Anija that a disaster was approaching and ordered a proper suit on that occasion.
The 47th Regiment arrived to the front on July 18. The 1st Battalion was positioned east of Auvere and left of the 45th Regiment, where the German 122nd Infantry Division units had been. The battalion was subjected to the Division Nederland, which situated left from it. Being on the positions near Auvere, Sooden's battalion was subjected to the Nordland Division's Panzer Regiment Hermann von Salza, which was led by Lieutenant Colonel Paul-Albert Kausch (photo: on the right).
Sooden's battalion had to abandon its positions on July 26 at 2 a.m. and walk back to Voka. The battalion retreated with problems. The battalion's mine throwers unit was left behind the Nederland's heavy transport vehicles on the pole road next to the railway and the vehicles had damaged the road so that it was impossible to move forward. The Estonians tore their carriages passed the vehicles, which had blocked the road between the sloughs, and continued to move towards Auvere station. The noise of the Russian tanks came from the right and soon the battle noises were heard from the front. The Russian infantry was currently setting up its cannons near Auvere station. The Estonians made preparations to break the road open, but then a few German tanks arrived who made the Russians retreat. Estonians neutralized the Russians' anti-tank cannons and retreated over the railway in the direction showed by the Germans, moving next to the railway until Narva-Tallinn highway and reached the Tannenberg line and Voka. The battalion was soon positioned 2 kilometers east of Voka. The position was made up of finely developed and camouflaged trenches. In addition it had bunkers with iron walls and doors about 4 meters underground. These were oval and reminded the interior of a submarine. The division's anti-tank company was on the same position.
One 659th Battalion officer remembers the morning of July 27: "The bunker door was slammed open and a young man rushed in – a messenger to Major Sooden. The quiet Sooden stepped in front of the bunker in the morning light, read the message and allowed the messenger to leave. After a moment he ordered the company leaders to a meeting, then stood still and looked at the Gulf of Finland breathing in the morning redness. Me and the adjutant were standing behind him, waiting for orders. We could guess that the message he had received would send us back to the forefront again. Sooden stood like this for a long time and then said: ‘So this is the end. We cannot stop the Russians any longer. If they break through, they reach Tallinn within three days. And they will break through.' He then gave regular orders and this in German, because the battalion's adjutant was German."
Georg had received an order to take the battalion to the Sinimäed Hills. Germans needed help to retake the hill Lastekodumägi. In the noon of July 27 the battalion was loaded on trucks and taken along the Narva highway over Sillamäe, 4 kilometers east of the Sinimäed Hills to the positions in the west. From there they were sent after a short break towards the Sinimäed cemetery line under the command of Regiment Norge. Georg had already gone to meet Norge's leader Sturmbannführer Stoffers. The same day a bunker was built for Georg on the hillside of Vaivara cemetery, about 200 meters north of the highway edge. But the battalion had lost ¼ of its 450-men staff while approaching the Sinimäed Hills, because it was hit by the enemy's artilleries, the Stalin's organs, mine throwers and aircrafts. The battalion also lost a lot of men while attacking the hill Lastekodumägi under the command of Lieutenant Jüriado and pulled back to the Grenadier Hill after Jüriado was injured.
The battalion received an order in the night to continue the attack before dawn and retake the hill. But the enemy's destructive firing began before dawn and this was followed by their infantry attack, which forced the battalion with its 30 men to retreat back to the cemetery positions. Before noon, being hit by a mine or missile splinter, Captain Georg Aleksander Sooden died in his bunker on the side of hill Tornimägi. He simply couldn't lie down fast enough. Thus his friends had to fulfill his last wish – to bury him in Jõhvi, next to the memorial.
Georg Sooden was buried in the suit ordered for this occasion on the square in front of his hometown Jõhvi church next to the memorial of those Jõhvi parish men who died in the War of Independence. A wreath, with the words "From Tiny" written on the ribbon, was placed next to the memorial by Lieutenant Jüriado. Georg Sooden was posthumously promoted to SS-Sturmbannführer. His battalion remained on the positions near the cemetery until August 8, then it was taken from Sinimäed Hills to south, near the Tallinn-Narva railway. There one of Georg's closest friends, Lieutenant Raul Jüriado, was killed by a Russian sniper on August 23. Tiny was buried next to his friend Georg Sooden.
The battalion received additions and in September was placed between Sinimäed Hills and the sea, where it was subjected to the Battle Group Mayer. A few weeks later the battalion was taken away from the homeland to Neuhammer to be reorganized. Most Sooden's men never saw homeland again. In September the communists destroyed the two still fresh graves. But people still took flowers there at night. To stop this the Russians built a sandbox on that spot. By now the graves of Georg and Tiny have been restored. A memorial stone was placed on their graves on June 20, 1996 and was ceremonially consecrated on June 23, 1996.
The awards of Georg Sooden:
- A medallion "Winter Battles in East 1941-1942"
- The Courage Badge of the Eastern Area
- 2nd class Iron Cross
- 1st class Iron Cross
- Michaelis, R. Eestlased Waffen-SSis. Tallinn, 2001
- Eesti riik ja rahvas Teises maailmasõjas. Volumes 7 and 9.
- Soldatov, S. Sinimägede taustal: unustamatuid mälestuskilde ja kaitselahinguid. Tallinn, Tartu, Stockholm, Frankfurt/Main, 2001.
- Jürissaar, V. Kahe rinde vahel: kolonel Rebasega koos idavõitluses. Gothenburg, 1951.
- Laar, M. Sinimäed 1944. Tallinn, 2006.
- Eesti idapataljonid idarindel 1941-1944. Tartu, 2003.
- Eesti mehed sõjatules. Saku, 1999.
- Estonian Photo Paper no 1, 1944.
- Estonian Photo Paper no 4, 1944.