The first battles of the battalion

The Battalion Narva began its journey on July 14 from Jasnaja Gorka. At first the men didn't know their direction, they moved slowly towards north in the closest distance of the front. There were constant trainings during the drive. Once the air alarm was given from the left, the whole battalion had to disperse on the field. The other time an alarm was given: the enemy was coming from the right, the unit had to quickly take its defence positions to fight back the anticipated attack. All this helped to keep the battalion in constant readiness to defend and to attack. They couldn't forget for a moment that the enemy was close.

But there were beautiful moments during their journey too. Once the men got to rest for a few hours near a beautiful river, they went swimming and sunbathe. On other time they reached a big village for the night where after the dinner the men watched into the dark black southern sky and reminded the places of far homeland and the loved ones back home. The men especially remembered the two nights they spent near Poltava town – one night while they were driving there, the other on their way back a few days later. The cars were parked under the trees which were full of fruits and the men didn't have to go through a lot of trouble to pick the plums, cherries, pears and big apples. In addition to decent meals, the men traded lye (the battalion's suppliers got it from somewhere) for chickens and hens with the locals.

The days passed. The men were still on the road. Once they managed to reach north of Kharkov, they were told to head back to south. The men reached the second largest town in Ukraine and had to cross the Donets River, but all roads were full of moving units, huge traffic jams had blocked the roads and the men were sent to southeast, to Merefa, from where they entered Kharkov and crossed the river a few hours later and headed onwards to northeast towards Belgorod. All roads were blocked there by the units too and all were moving in the same direction as the battalion. Aircrafts crossed their heads towards north, one wing was followed by another, to somewhere in the direction of the Arc of Kursk. Now the men heard that they were heading towards the front, to the battle.

The smiles slowly faded from the men's faces, they withdrew to themselves and tried to prepare for the situation they were going to face in a few days. They reached a village on a hillside by the evening and stayed there. The men were given a rich dinner, which seemed to confirm that the day to face the enemy was near. It was already getting darker, a group of painters arrived from the division who quickly painted the cars green (so far these had been brown-yellow spotted). New signs were put on the cars (each unit had a separate sign which was painted on the cars and it helped to direct the units to resting and gathering places with special signals). A bit before the midnight the men were sitting in the cars again and the journey continued fast to south through Kharkov. They were on their way to the front line.

The battalion lost its first members already before arriving to their destination. On the night of July 18 the colon stopped for a moment near Andrejevka village. The noise of a single bomber was heard in total darkness and immediately the Ukrainian night turned white – lightning rockets were hanging in the air. The majority managed to take cover from the bombs and spread out, but one landrover was hit. Five men were killed: one German officer, architect Kask from Tartu, Reimann from Narva who was called the "Narva nightingale" because of his good singing voice, and two boys from Tallinn. This wasn't a good omen, it was more like a warning. Although many men had already participated in the battles on the Eastern Front, it wasn't comparable with what was waiting for them in the Ukrainian steppes the next day.

The unit replaced the Wehrmacht 46th Infantry Regiment's 2nd Company and took its place on the left wing and was the neighbor of the Germania Regiment. The 3rd Company was on the right and it received the 1st Company's 1st Group as addition. The other 1st Company units took their positions couple of hundred meters behind the equipment positions. The change took place peacefully. In the area where the 2nd company was, the enemy's intelligence expedition had kicked the 46th Division's men out of the trench and the trench had to be cleared of the enemies in a few-minute close combat. The length of the whole front line was a bit under one kilometer.

The heavy company's anti-tank cannons were sparsely spread by Lieutenant Fiskar and these were well disguised about four hundred meters behind, on the area between the forefront and a village in the gully. Since the promised anti-tank cannons (PAK) did not reach the Estonian men, they used three Russian 76,2 mm pipes, which they received from the Finns. Thanks to their shooting and exploding sounds which sounded like "razz-boom", "razz" being the shooting sound and "boom" the exploding, this machine received its nickname. The Estonians had named these machines during the training with Estonian-like names: "Kõu" (translation: thunder), "Pikker" (lightning) and "Tasuja" (avenger). These cannons were very good and had a strong breakthrough power, especially against the Russian T-34.

The heavy grenade throwers unit and the infantry cannons found their positions in front of the village near the battalion's headquarters, left and right from the road. The companies on the forefront first got acquainted with their location and defence line. The men were distributed to their positions, the trenches and shooting nests were put in order. The outposts were sent out. The landscape was a hilly steppe with high grass growing in some places, the gullies made by the Ukrainian spring high-waters crossed the steppe here and there. The aforementioned steppe grass was blocking the view of the 3rd Company, but they were able to observe the surroundings some ten meters wide. The battalion's position was a little further from the upland's edge, but occasionally the shooting nests reached the hillside's edge. The landscape went sloping downwards behind the trenches, it went until the Andrejevka village.

The slope was bigger on the enemy's side, on some places it was rather steep. A bit further away were thick bushes and behind these a massive forest and the landscape seemed to go downwards near the river. This part of the river and its other bank were not seen on the Estonian's side. The 3rd Company was lucky: they got a defence line, which had already been used before. It was built long time ago, either in the summer of 1941 or a bit later. The defence line was zigzag and three-lined in that area. Light machine guns were situated on the forefront after every some ten meters, heavy machine guns were placed in single outreaching nests to cover all areas in front of them with their outflanking fire. The Germans had built small departing holes behind the forefront, which were simple sleeping places covered with boards. These helped the men take cover from the sun, but not from the enemy's missiles and mines. The company leader's command point was in the second line. There were the messengers, communication and radio men and the bandaging point. There also was the backup ammunition storage. But the young soldiers were quite naïve the first time: they thought that some ten thousand backup bullets and a few hand grenades would be enough for the battles! But since they hadn't gone through something similar before, they didn't know what to expect. Even a proverb says that one always gets much smarter after a good battle!

The third line ended with the grenade throwers' huge and deep bunker. This had probably been one of the main leading centers for the previous men: the bunker was covered with a sixfold layer of boards, inside were the sleeping places for 15 men, a big desk in the middle of the floor, around it a number of chairs. The previous men had either forgotten or simply left several packs of candles on the desk. Here and there some kind of wires came out of the walls. About 30 kilometers from the bunker where the trench made a sudden turn to the left was a small countersink with a sitting board just on the right height – this was the outdoor toilet. Because of the German neatness, the hole was covered with a lid. Even this kind of a place had been included in the defence system.

The first day of battle, July 19, 1943

A bit before ten o'clock the 3rd Company's outposts, the whole unit of Lembit Sepp, heard the noise of the enemy's tanks. Soon they noticed the tanks moving in their direction. The men grabbed the rocket pistols and shot violet rockets into the air – it was the signal of a tank attack. The tanks crossed the wire barracks in front of the company fast, rolling these down in high speed, and shot constantly from all cannons and machine guns. It seemed that they didn't have a firm overview of the company's positions because after driving aimlessly around they turned 90 degrees and headed towards the Andrejevka village.

The beginning of the tank attack was followed by a long row of orders: let the tanks through and battle only with the infantry soldiers. All 22 tanks which passed the main battle line headed towards Andrejevka – they probably had some idea about the battalion headquarters' location. The enemy's heavy weapons began to bomb the 3rd Company's area intensely. On that day the attacks' main target was exactly this part of the front.

SS-Untersturmführer Ralf Fiskar had chosen good positions to anti-tank cannons and soon after the tanks had turned, all cannons had a separate tank in sight. The distance decreased 300 meters, 250 meters, 200 meters – then they got an order to fire and soon eight tanks were in flames. Estonian heavy cannon "Tasuja" (leader Junior Officer Ilmar Ainsaar, gunner Erich Värv) had hit the armored machines in front and then aimed in the middle of the tank colon, where "Kõu" (leader Alfons Haring, gunner Kuno Trell) had already made devastating destruction work. The third heavy cannon "Pikker" (leader Evald Laidvee, gunner Aare Siirvee) and Sergeat Major Bruno Thiel's light cannons group blocked the tanks' road to retreat. Only three tanks were able to retreat to the company's main battle line while driving backwards and two of these tanks were taken over by the Estonian tank hunters and were destroyed with magnetic mines. Therefore only one armored machine was able to go back and forward the sad message to home. The first attack lasted a bit more than half an hour.

The enemy's artillery units fire stopped, but the intense and disturbing mine throwers fire continued. The steppe grass was burning and the thick gray smoke that came from it spread over the whole defence line. Quickly the German 12-pipe artillery battery and two heavy anti-tank cannons were brought to protect the company's positions. They took their positions near the village. After a few hours the Russians' strong destructive fire began, which lasted over an hour. This was followed by another tank attack, this time supported by the infantry. The tanks were manned, probably in order to protect the tanks from the company's tank hunters. At first the tanks were cleaned of the Russian soldiers armed with kones (Russian submachine guns PPŠ) with an outflank fire, then the armored machines were let to drive over the company's trenches and the enemy's infantry units, which came after the tanks, were beaten back with grenade throwers and heavy machine guns.

The tanks headed towards Andrejevka at first, but turned around as soon as the anti-tank cannons began shooting. The latter ones destroyed 5 enemy's armored machines, but then all other machines directed the fire on them and the cannons were destroyed. The Russian tanks destroyed both German heavy anti-tank cannons and reached the pipes' firing area of their own unit. Two T-34s were destroyed by the cannons. One T-34 had discovered the location of the "Kõu". The gunner Trell was killed in the fire but the Russians didn't manage to destroy the cannon, because they were hit by Sergeant Major Thiel's cannon. The cannon leader Haring took over Trell's position and two more tanks were destroyed by "Kõu". The other tanks retreated, but in order to do that, had to pass the Germans' infantry line where the 1st and 3rd Company men destroyed 9 escapees. SS-Sturmann Hendrik Raiend from Southern Estonia destroyed two T-34s alone with magnetic mines.

After lunch the enemy's infantry tried to attack several times, but having been shot by the German infantry cannons, grenade throwers, heavy and light machine guns, they didn't reach the company's trenches. The Jürgens brothers' light and Heino Ridbeck's heavy machine guns were shooting heavily. Their positions had been brought a little bit further to the front and like forts they protected the area in front of the company. The 3rd Company's left, Valter Piho's heavy machine gun had the best battle position: it was on the edge of an upland which formed an especially steep bank on that spot – the tanks and infantry units couldn't get up but the machine gun had a great shooting sector. Since it caused the enemy a lot of loss, the enemy aimed the machine gun with cannons and mine throwers. These and the Jürgens brothers were the two weapon groups which were the first ones to fall with the whole staff.

The men were short of ammunition by noon. The machine gun bullets were almost finished, the grenade throwers boxes were empty. Who could have counted how many times the enemy rose to attack but was beaten back? Every single attack became more and more fierce. Suddenly everything was silent. Not a single bang! It was almost unbearable. Were the Russians having a smoke break or eating soup? The men on the German side also used this time however they wanted. Some smoked, some drank water. Some were eating bread, some chocolate… And then it started again. The Russians fire rolls wheeled over the Narva's trenches. It slowly moved backwards and then the sound of the tank treads was heard again. 5 or 6 men were on a tank with kones, hiding behind the armored towers, a large number of tanks behind them and between them. Several hundred mouths yelled "hurray!" in the battle melee.

The first ones to fall were the men on the tanks, then the running groups became more thin until the land in front of the Estonians was suddenly empty. Quite soon they heard noises behind the men on the forefront – the package boys had done another prank. The gunners had to watch into the sky so that nobody would get hit by a large piece of iron. After every explosion the Estonians yelled "hurray!" in the trenches.

Heino Valjala from the grenade throwers group remembers: "We had taken our positions on July 19 around two o'clock a bit behind the forefront, in the last defence trench of the 3rd company. The grass was high everywhere, but the paths here and there were already made. A bunker for 25 men was ready for our use. It had been the command point of the previous unit. We prepared the grenade throwers for battle and tried to have some rest – a rumor was spreading that we will attack at 12 o'clock. I went out around 10 o'clock and saw rockets flying into the sky. The firing of heavy weapons began. It didn't take long until the steppe grass seemed to be smashed and the tank attack began. They soon passed us and we wondered why our anti-tank units did not shoot. But a moment later it began – the tank cupolas were breaking, many machines were set on fire, some were simply left immobile. Everyone was happy!

For some reason the enemy's infantry came 400 meters behind the tanks. In addition to the forefronts machine guns we opened the fire from grenade throwers and half an hour later everything was silent – the tanks were destroyed and the infantry soldiers were lying dead on the ground.

We didn't get much time to rest until a new attack began with heavy weapons. The tanks passed us again, but our grenade throwers' and machine guns' fire was so well aimed that not a single enemy's soldier reached our defence trenches. We didn't have time to look what the tanks did behind us, but pretty soon we saw the retreating armored machines. It was clear that our machine guns M-34s were hitting the enemy's infantry very well. We used shrapnel charges in our grenade throwers.

After four o'clock the infantry attacked several times again, but these attacks were crushed in our defence fire. No one was killed from the two grenade throwers' units on the first day nor was seriously injured. The enemy watched our positions closely during the night from its aircrafts and this way interrupted our ammunition supplying. But all necessary items still arrived."

Richard Sova: "The first two tank attacks of the Izium battle happened without the infantry. Although our boys knew the technical abilities of the T-34s (the size of the armor, weapons and the so-called dead angles in front and on the sides), it was uncomfortable to hear these monsters heading towards you while constantly spitting fire!
But then a sudden order came across the front: 'Überfahren lassen!' (let them pass) and the anti-tank cannons began to work.

The further tank attacks took place with the infantry and these were a lot worse and the men on the tanks had to be destroyed with the outflanking fire of the machine guns and this was done quite successfully. On rare occasions the infantry reached our trenches, where in the close combats we sometimes had to use shovels, although each group had at least 4 or 5 submachine guns and some ten 9-mm pistols."

Heino Ridbeck: "Luckily we had experienced battle men in our unit who immediately said: we let the tanks pass, our aim is the infantry! We had used almost the whole ammunition of the machine guns during the first battle. We went to get it from the company's command point with Lembit Hülp and got back right in time for the enemy's second attack. The attacks became less frequent during the evening but then it turned out that the whole second machine gun had fallen. Only Lembit Allikas from our team had been hit by a missile splinter.

Since a heavy machine gun could not be unmanned, the group leader Fiala gave an order to messengers Endel Tuul, Arno Heinraud and myself to take over the weapon. This position was surrounded by missile craters. No one from the previous group was seen there. Only the body of Valter Piho was lying next to the position. I remember seeing the blue-black-white ring in his finger. A bit further was another body without a head. Heinraud and I took our places behind the machine gun. The battle actions had become calmer. Suddenly a burst from the Russians' machine gun passed Heinraud's head by 5 centimeters. Heinraud was laughing – if he would have been a bit taller, he would have beeen dead! But it happened an hour later. Only Tuul and I remained.

Before the evening we had heard the sound of working motors from the Russians' side for quite a while and clouds of dust were above the forest. The group leader immediately announced this to battalion leader Eberhardt who soon arrived to our positions. We observed the landscape in front of us with binoculars, discovered one enemy's fire nest which had made our life bitter. He called one 'Tiger' on the spot, which shot a few times the discovered target and then retreated to its initial position. No more bursts came from that direction again."

Edgar Reimann from the anti-tank cannon group remembers: "We took the positions at night when everything was silent. We received an order to dig shooting nests for the cannons and ourselves, but a small number of men actually did it. We had had the orders to dig before too. The hell broke loose around 10 o'clock in the morning. It was impossible to separate one bang from the other. A fierce fire roll wheeled over our positions and I had never seen anything like it before. I deeply regretted not digging before. But the wisdom that comes later is a pointless one.

I don't know how long this hell lasted, but probably not more than half an hour. The preparation fire slowly became weaker, single moving bushes became visible from behind the hill. It became clear – at first one, then two, then more and more, and the last ones were not disguised. My old friend Corporal Värv was the gunner of one 'Tasuja'. His hands were not shaking (both hands had to turn small handles simultaneously to aim a tank) and on the first order a T-34 was destroyed.

Our battalion leader SS-Sturmbannführer Eberdardt was a man with a cool head who walked in between the tanks like he was picked mushrooms in the forest, only instead of a basket he was holding a magnetic mine in his hand. I had never seen a man so brave. I don't think he even had a helmet on. Soon new tanks arrived and kept on coming. The cannons were firing again, the enemy's tank towers were flying off, the battle was fierce. This time they had situated the infantry on the tanks and it also followed the armored machines and in some places began to blend into our positions. Tanser yelled to me: 'Reimann, the enemy is straight ahead, shoot, you have a gun!' But what was the point of shooting him, he was such a wimp and stood before you with his hands held high!

Our cannon soon ran out of ammunition, which went through armor, and probably the gunner and the loader had both gone to get it, because at that moment there was no one with the cannon. But one T-34 had unnoticeably got too close to our cannon and wanted to ram it. Cannon chief Ilmar Ainsaar (on the photo) jumped quickly up to go to the cannon, pushed an explosive cannon to the barrel and fired the tank tread into pieces from 6 or 7 meter distance. The situation proved it to be a good thing that we had the Russian cannons because Russians brought ammunition to us themselves – the tank cannons had the same calibers. The battle lasted the whole day, again and again the enemy tried to press with tanks, infantry and then with both. Our boys didn't retreat a single step.

When it became darker, I went to the car. Tanser was lying down behind the car, nicely on his side, a little bit crooked, and slept. I said to him: 'Why are you sleeping here, go inside the car!' Tanser didn't move. I then lit a match and saw that a bullet had gone through his head. He was the first man we lost in our cannon group. We had started together in October 1941 in Tallinn and served together in the 185th Security Police."

Lembit Sepp: "The main target of the first day was the 3rd Company's area, where all tanks rolled over the men. I didn't see a single tank in the 2nd Company's area. The infantry came about 300 or 400 meters after the tanks, still 30 or 40 men in a row. Our machine guns mowed down the whole bunches of them. They had probably just got their load of vodka, because they came slowly, kones on their chests, nobody lied down on the ground, except if someone was shot. Our anti-tank fire was very destructive – 20 to 30 machines were burning like candles. This strongly increased the morale. The infantry's tank hunters – in which all of us had been trained in – began to destroy single tanks with magnetic mines. In the Izium battles not a single T-34 had been covered with cement, this came later. But then the Germans began to use vacuum mines. The machine gun men pulled every eighth or tenth bullet out to save the ammunition. Thus the constant firing ended and the men had to pull another bullet into the barrel with a lock. It was easy to empty the whole bullet sliver of the quick German machine guns by forgetting the finger on the trigger. It wasn't rare that the heavy machine gunners shot 10 to 12 thousand bullets in one day."

SS-Obergruppenführer Paul Hausser wrote in his memoirs: "Battalion Narva is hanging in there: do you know what that means? How much courage and simple bravery is behind these words? But the disturbing mine throwers fire didn't end. Single heavy machine gun missiles were also included. Wasn't this day never going to end? But then the long-awaited night came. It brought the long-expected coolness, but not the peace or sleep. Our outposts went ahead to prevent possible surprises. We had a feeling as if this young battalion had always been a part of the Wiking." (Hausser was the Division Das Reich first commander, he was in the SS Panzer Corps during the Izium battles).

The result of the first battle day was somewhat surprising. The Estonians had only lost some ten men and the same number of men were seriously injured. There were plenty of those who were only a little bit wounded, but almost all men remained on the forefront. The enemy lost at least about half a hundred tanks and the loss of soldiers was difficult to assess.

The arrived darkness and silence of the night gave only a small number of men the chance to sleep. Almost all men had run out of ammunition after the extremely intense first battle day. The infantry didn't have more light weapons bullets, nor the magnetic mines and hand grenades; the grenade throwers didn't have more charges and missiles; the anti-tank cannons didn't have any missiles that would go through armor. But the latter ones knew where to get more ammunition, since they had the same cannon calibers with the Russians tanks. So the men collected the ammunition from the crushed Russian tanks. The enemy disturbed the night work of the German rear men with light double surfaced bombers while they were trying to bring ammunition and food. The trampled steppe grass was set on fire with their phosphor bombs, in which many Russian tankers were killed. Wounded and seriously injured men were taken away. Food was brought but after an intense day they didn't like the food anymore. Only every kind of liquids were favored.

The company leaders were called to the headquarters at night. SS-Sturmbannführer Eberhardt announced of the reports given to the division leader and expressed praise to the whole group on his and the division leader's behalf. But all in all he was not very talkative – he had been announced before that the battalion's assignment was to beat the enemy back over the river. But according to the latest information the enemy had gathered huge groups to this area and now the battalion had to beat back the attack, whatever it takes. The battalion's whole training and mood had been built on attacking, but now they had to crouch in the trenches and take on the enemy's iron melee. Noise, shouting and the sound of treads were heard from the Russians' side the whole night. It was obvious that the enemy was gathering units to the starting positions. They anxiously waited for the morning.

Kaljo Janno: "On the first day we were with our machines in the trenches in Andrejevka village. After the first bombers' attack and the tank attack were beaten back, all free vehicles were sent backwards, to the next villages. As soon as it got darker, I took food to the men on the forefront. The area between the village and forefront was covered with tank remains and I had to drive from one ruin to the next, choosing the moment when the 'candles' (lightning rockets) faded out in the sky. I went to the forefront several times to take food and ammunition to the men. Towards the morning we received an order to bring back the Company Volkswagen, which had been shot the previous night and in which's truck we sat while going back. The machine had been quite ruined by splinters and I took it to the repair shop in the daytime. We got it back looking brand new."

The second day of battle, July 20, 1943

The day slowly brightened. A thick milk-like fog was rising from the river, the visibility was bad. Once the sunbeams were warming the air, the fog slowly disappeared and a terrible sight opened: the enemy had lined half a hundred tanks on the starting positions of the attack. When these began moving, the Russian artillery opened a strong fire on the Estonian trenches. The infantry was approaching on tanks and behind tanks.

This time the main target of the attack seemed to be the 2nd Company on its most outreaching part of the front. Quite soon the company board's location – an open bomb hole – had to be abandoned because the tanks kept crossing it. The direction and actions of the tanks were not like the ones the day before, the enemy's intelligence had surely found out if not the exact location of Narva's anti-tank weapons, then at least its approximate placement. This time the tanks were left on the main line of the attack, where German cannons did not reach because they rolled over trenches and were constantly firing.

The Russian attack and destruction planes were bombing the gully and the battalion headquarters' location and kept the main attacking line under fire. All connections between the companies and battalions were cut. The radio connection remained but for some reason it was unsystematic and disturbed. Company leader Herbert Burgdorf, a young 23-year-old German who was recently promoted to SS-Obersturmführer, was the master of the situation. He directed the men in neutralizing the attacks, handed personally out the hand grenades and magnetic mines and was a role model to all.

Anti-tank cannon leader Ilmar Ainsaar wrote: "A surprising sight opened to the observers: disguised men jumped out of the ground here and there, attached a mine to every tank and disappeared to the same hole from which they had jumped out. Explosions were heard, tanks were set on fire and left on the battlefield immobile."

The enemy had broken in to the 2nd Company's positions from several places. The situation became critical. The transportation of the wounded into the bandaging point was impossible. Ammunition, especially the magnetic mines, were almost finished. Half of the company's men were either dead or lost their battle spirit. But then help arrived – probably the battalion leader had demanded it. The noise in the sky became unbearable and suddenly not a single enemy's plane was seen! German dash bombers, the stukas, arrived and a number of destroyers with them. Some ten Romanian old-type planes came after the German planes, dropped the light bombs and left.

Heino Ridbeck: "The stukas and Heinkels began to arrive one by one. All dropped their loads to the enemy's attacking powers on our side of the river. It wasn't hard to picture this 'soup' where they had a narrow platform with a large number of battle technology. A thick black cloud of smoke was on their starting positions the whole second day of the battle and heavy explosions were heard."

Thanks to the chaos happening on the enemy's side, the 2nd Company men with company leader Burgdorf and group leader Hando Russ managed to eliminate the breakthroughs. One attack group from the 3rd Company had also come to help.

Edgar Reimann: "The next day everything started all over again. The infantry had rough time in the front and our machine gun (each anti-tank cannon group had one light machine gun to protect their cannon) was demanded in the front. I was sent there. But my machine gun broke. A machine is a machine and it can break anytime. There were several men killed in the trench. I took one gun and loaded my pockets with ammunition. But I couldn't aim from the trench, the steppe grass was blocking the view. Thus I jumped out of the trench, a destroyed tank was next to me. The visibility was better there. The Russians machine gun was shooting at us. I was shooting them. Who knows from where the bullet came that hit me. Suddenly there was such a thump like my thigh was hit with a stick. I checked: the pants were torn into pieces until my knees, pieces of meat were hanging; the pocket full of ammunition was gone with the pipe I bought from Holland. I crawled into the trench, someone handed me a bandage and someone helped to bandage the wound. One Estonian boy and a Russian war prisoner took me away from the forefront, to the bandaging point."

After lunch the enemy's infantry tried to attack the 2nd and 3rd companies positions after the short fire of heavy weapons, probably they did it after estimating the German losses in the morning battles. The attack was beaten back by the grenade throwers and machine guns. Only a small number of the enemy's soldiers returned to their own men. But the Estonians had to suffer severe losses, especially the 2nd Company. Many men were wounded and most of them were unable to take away. Their situation was especially difficult – the wounds had been bandaged but the men were tortured besides the pain by the smoke, dust and thirst. But once the darkness arrived the wounded and dead ones were taken away, although the enemy's night bombers tried to stop all kind of movement. But the forefront was secured during the night with necessary ammunition for the light and heavy weapons for the next day. Each battle-ready man on the forefront received a bottle of beer and it disappeared like a drop of water on a hot stove. The dead bodies were sent from the forefront to the back with ammunition, equipment and food trucks. The bodies were rolled into cloth and as the driver August Tõnismäe later has said, they were buried in Barvebkovo, where the German soldiers' big cemetery was near the highway.

Valjala also remembers: "A Russian tank had stopped near us around the noon of the second day, it was smoking and its door was open. We thought it would soon be in flames. But this didn't happen and our boy Ülo Pikand from Tartu decided to go and see what was inside, maybe it can be used as armor. As soon as he reached the door, a shot was heard and although he wasn't hit, Ülo quickly ran away. The door was shut, the motor started and the tank turned its pipe in our direction. We got quickly into our bunker, but the tank was so close it was able to shoot only the mound of the bunker. Besides it was in a hurry to retreat. So we got away from them and they got away from us. On the second day our 3rd Company leader SS-Obersturmführer Leicht was wounded and we took him to the bandaging point on a stretcher. Half of the forefront men were out of action with just two days. Many were injured. Our grenade throwers fire was extremely intense and well aimed, it was a huge help to the infantry."

Late that night division leader SS-Brigadeführer Herbet Gille called the battalion leader and asked about the overall situation and seemed to be worried. Eberhardt replied that he reckons he can hang in there for one more day, because "he had never been in a battle with such soldiers as the Estonians."

SS-Obergruppenführer Paul Hausser wrote: "The enemy's captured and decoded radiograms demanded an unconditional breakthrough of the 'concrete' (a methodical artillery fire) to our positions. The main target of the attack is the left wing of Narva battalion. The attack airplanes are in the air almost all the time. The tanks stay away from the anti-tank cannons' fire, if they get to its area, they retreat. The whole night is almost as bright as the day on the front thanks to the lightning rockets."

And the night came again. The watch posts guarded each sound and movement on the forefront. They repaired the shooting nests. They ate and drank coffee or tea. They tried to sleep a little.

The third day of battle, July 21, 1943

The third battle day began exactly at 10 o'clock with the enemy's heavy destruction fire. The enemy used everything it had – the artillery, heavy and light mine throwers and, for the first time in Izium battles, the "Stalin's organs", which were the mine throwers of the guard army. The fire took over the whole battalion's area and was so intense that it had a crushing effect on the men's morale.

The 1st Company, which's two groups had still been in reserve and therefore their losses were not very serious, was sent to the forefront at night to replace the killed soldiers. The company leader, SS-Hauptsturmführer Jaan Raudsoo, was killed soon after the battle begun. All survivors remembered him with a good word, because he was one of the men who on the first day organized water and ammunition for the men. He was the man who, his soldier's coat opened in front, sleeves pulled up, took care of the men in trenches in the middle of the battles with a drinking canister in his hand. He was replaced by the very popular group leader, Lieutenant Schied. The long destructive fire was followed by a tank attack and the infantry's attack. The heavy tanks covered with dust climbed towards the defence lines like fattened geese. And this time the infantry, which was very large, did not move a few hundred meters behind the tanks, but in between the tanks.

Lembit Sepp: "They didn't approach us in a chain, but 30 to 40 men in a bunch. There were so many of them that no single fire was able to kill all of them. A close combat began and some men were forced to retreat to the initial trenches and shooting nests of the 1st Company. The Russians took some of our positions over."

The main target of the attacks seemed to be the 3rd Company's front area again. But rough battles happened in other places too. The staff of the battalion had decreased by more than a half because of the wounded men. Most officers were out and they were replaced mostly by Estonian junior officers. The wounded men had rough time, they suffered because of the heat, thirst and pain in the holes where their fellows had taken them. Despite the few breakthroughs the enemy did not make much progress. A new attack began after lunch, which lasted for a few hours.

Heino Ridbeck: "The enemy managed to break into our positions right of our shooting nests. Group leader SS-Untersturmführer Fiala organized an interception and we beat them back with a counterattack. Fiala, the much feared leader in Heidelager, was killed in this battle as a fearless soldier. My fellow Endel Tuule was also killed. The infantry soldiers got a lot of help from our company's grenade throwers group. Their squad leader was the big and strong Junior Officer Valter Kaval and one of the group leaders was the short and chubby Bernhard Viikand, a former 'Erna' group member."

SS-Obergruppenführer Paul Hausser remembered: "But then the enemy's tanks arrived… three, six, twelve, will they ever stop? Fifteen, seventeen, twenty, still coming and coming. Twenty-five, thirty, thirty-five… still no end… thirty-six, thirty-seven, forty. It was like a hurricane, which has to grind the whole front, flood it, to make way for two attacking infantry regiments…The Red Army put out everything it had and the Battalion Narva's commander announced that only one thing can prevent a disaster – the strong heart of his boys. The anti-tank weapons began their speech…"

Endel Pool: "Misleading texts have claimed that the 1st Company was not on the front for two days. This is incorrect: the 1st unit, led by SS-Untersturmführer Herbert Nugis, was on the right wing of the forefront the whole three days. The other men were in reserve with company leader SS-Hauptsturmführer Raudsoo.
By the third day our company's 1st group's 1st squad (a squad: 9 to 10 men) had 4 men left. Two tanks came straight in our direction during one attack. We didn't have any magnetic mines. Our machine gun stopped working on the most critical moment and we had to abandon the trench. We retreated right to the trench of SS-Untersturmführer Nugis. Nugis immediately gathered the men for counterattack and our trenches were retaken in a close combat, although with the price of losing several men. A bullet passed Nugis' throat and I was hit in the shoulder and face by a hand grenade's splinters. (I got back to the unit under Valk)."

Cannon "Tasuja" leader SS-Unterscharführer Ilmar Ainsaar: "The 4th Company's infantry cannons with the grenade throwers' unit began to act and mowed down the infantry soldiers behind the tanks or made them take cover. This gave our companies a chance to deal with the tanks in the meantime. A number of tanks were destroyed with tank mines, but some tanks broke through the infantry and reached the battalion's headquarters by firing from all weapons. There they were met by our fire. Since we didn't have much ammunition, each shot had to hit the target.

A fierce duel took place between Haring's cannon 'Kõu' and a T-34. Haring had only one armor-piercing missile left and he tried to stop the tank with explosive missiles. But the T-34 kept on moving. About 25 meters away Haring finally took a shot and the missile went through the armor. Bull's eye! The air pressure forced the cannon group to get down and deafened the men, but the tanks stopped in flames and made a cracking sound. The replacement of SS-Sturmann Trell, young SS-Sturmann Ilmar Tõniste, shot 5 tanks into fire. Värv destroyed four more with 'Tasuja' and so this machine had destroyed 16 tanks."

Valjala recalls this day: "The enemy broke through the 2nd Company's middle part and stopped on an island of grass, which was still untouched in this battle melee. It was about 70 meters from us. We saw them preparing for an assault. We had only pistols and charge in the grenade thrower left. Actually, according to the regulations you shouldn't fire this close from a grenade thrower, but what did the regulations matter then! The shooting table gives an angle to shoot 400 to 2,400 meters. We decided that it had been done before, so we will try too. If it should miss the enemy, we have time to deal with the pistols later.

We put the tube almost in a vertical position, someone pushed strongly the tube to its supports and a missile went it. The missile hit exactly the grass island, collided up and exploded in the air. We then began the attack ourselves and 13 enemies rose their hands. Kaval, who spoke Russian well, ordered them to put all their belongings on the ground and sent me with the fresh prisoners to bring ammunition … On our way back we were shot with mines and we lied on the ground. But one missile exploded real close, the silence seemed strange to me then. I finally understood that the hit had made me deaf.

We got back to the grenade thrower with ammunition and I wrote on a piece of paper that I cannot hear. Kaval wrote back: 'If Teder is done with aiming, I will signal with my hand and you let the missile in!' My hearing came back only four days later. We lost Ülo Pikand on that day. At first he was injured during one counterattack, but as I was carrying him on my back, he was hit again and this time the hit was lethal. Helmo Ello, Edmund Mäepere and Junior Officer Edmund Kütt were injured."

Battalion leader Major Georg Eberhardt was killed around noon. It happened about 250 meters in front of the battalion bunker, towards the front line. This depressing message spread from one unit to the other fast.

Lembit Sepp, the first number of the 3rd Company's third unit third squad's machine gun, remembers: "After the first retreat from the front line in the midday of the third battle day I carried the group leader towards the battalion's bandaging point. Eberhardt was standing near the battalion's main center with adjutant and German messenger and ended a phone call to accept a report from my group leader. I heard how he said into the field phone after the report: 'The battle is fierce, but my men will not retreat and I will not order them to do so!'

I was 5 or 6 meters away from Eberhardt, my group leader left to the bandaging point and I was on my way back, when a missile, probably from a tank, fell 2 to 3 meters in front of Eberhardt, his right hand was lifelessly hanging, head was covered with blood, he said a few words and fell to the ground. Only one other Estonian besides me could have witnessed it – Gunnar Schneider (his real name should actually be Neider), a boy from Tartu who was a few meters behind me."

Many men who saw Eberhardt dead and even those, who went to bury him, claimed he had a bullet wound with burning marks on his head. It was possible he had shot himself because he was so seriously injured.

Viktor Moritz, the headquarters writer in Heidelager, later the driver of an ammunition truck: "The day after the Izium battle I drove to Barvenkovo where the division's ammunition storages were to bring grenades and missiles. The German soldiers' cemetery was also in Barvenkovo and all men killed in Izium battle were buried there. The guard of the cemetery, after finding out I was Estonian, asked me to come to a storehouse-like building, opened the door and took me to the room where a large number of dead bodies were lying. He took the cloth off from one body and I saw it was our battalion leader. The officer draw my attention to the bullet hole on his head, which should have been a clear evidence of Eberhardt shooting himself. A few days later he was buried with the other officers who were killed in this front area."

The death of the commander made the men angry and the enemies soon felt it. The battalion was taken over by the former leader's adjutant, an Austrian, SS-Obersturmführer Schmidt, who was highly respected among Estonians. Battalion Narva's situation was more than critical: the battalion leaders were dead, they had run out of ammunition and the enemy had broken in from several places. A message was forwarded from the headquarters to the division: "Battalion Narva is fighting with its last strength and bleeding to death!" These words were forwarded in German broadcasting by war writer Friedrich Wilhelm Abel a few days later and it spread all over Europe. The anti-tank cannons had run out of the armor-piercing ammunition. The Russians could have destroyed the cannons with a few tanks. The four tanks, which headed towards the battalion headquarters and grenade throwers' battery, were destroyed with magnetic mines.

The enemy had broken into our infantry positions quite deep in some places. SS-Obersturmführer Schmidt gathered all available men: cooks, drivers, shoemakers-tailors, mechanics, gunners, and barred the breakthroughs with these men. At the same time they didn't stop on what they achieved, but began to attack themselves. With each invaded meter more and more men from the forefront joined the attack and soon the enemy's strongholds were suffocated with an avalanche-like attack and soon all initial positions were retaken. When they ran out of ammunition, they took the weapons of those enemies who were killed in the trench battle, if these were emptied out, the men kept on attacking with hand battle and in this they were much more successful than the enemy.

Bernhard Viikand: "It was 4 o'clock after lunch. We had just cleaned the trenches from the enemies. SS-Obersturmführer Schmidt manned all working machine guns and placed them in the shooting nests on the forefront. From here and there the men found ammunition and hand grenades. The other available men gathered in the center of the 3rd Company, into a deep protection trench. Schmidt was there and had taken over leading the battalion, his messenger and radio operator were there as well. There were some men from the grenade throwers group, because they had run out of ammunition, but had a few kones. Schmidt turned to the division and front headquarters several times through the radio and he was asking nicely at first, but later he was demanding the support of the air force because the battalion didn't have many men left whom they could have used in battles. Since there were huge battles in the Belgorod-Kursk area, most of the air force units had been sent there. And we weren't sent any help yet.
The battle continued. The Red Army soldiers tried from here and there to attack and break our defence. But they failed. Single tanks broke to our trenches a few times, made a few shots and then retreated quickly. And we felt that the attacks became weaker each time, just like the Russians would have lost a will to attack. Our defence line had become very sparse, but those who were still able to hold a gun did their jobs devotedly. The ammunition, which was brought in the meantime, allowed us to shoot without having to count the bullets. Those men who only had guns left, placed the weapons aside and their main task was to throw hand grenades towards the attacking and lying down enemies. This was the most effective way to destroy the Russians. Then, after another radio connection, a joyful message came: the planes will get there after 20 minutes! Schmidt quickly gave us the rocket pistols and ordered to spread in both directions, so that when the moment comes they could signal their positions with smoke rockets.

The Russians seemed to sense that the final show was approaching and attacked once again. It was the fiercest attack of this afternoon. The mass of several hundred people moved towards us with the support of 6 tanks. The tanks crossed our former trenches on high speed and began to roll over our defence lines. They drove back and forth on high speed and constantly fired from all weapons. But when two tanks were set on fire with magnetic mines, the rest turned back. The enemy's infantry had reached our defence line in the meantime and tried to invade our trenches. But it was only an attempt without any results. And since they didn't have much ammunition, each bullet was cherished. They fired with rather short bursts, the guns were used a lot for defence. The marksmen got to do their thankworthy jobs now. The chains of enemy were forced to get on the ground. During each attack attempt the enemy's lines became thinner by 15 to 20 men."

Hardly quarter of an hour later the men heard the sound of plane motor from the right. Rockets up! And then they arrived. In front there were a few wings of dash bombers – stukas, followed by the Heinkels, which covered the whole sky, and horizontal bombers. When the first stukas started to dive while making the turns, and the horrible noise which was heard along the whole front became to hurt the ears, the men jumped up from the defence trenches, waved their hands to the sky and screamed "hurray!".

The battle action on the ground stopped immediately. It was replaced with the explosions of the bombs, which made the whole ground shake. Clods of dirt were flying to the sky and in some places bushes and trees as well. In this trash that was flying in the sky, one could see single parts of some machines and even bodies. The mincing machine was working in its highest speed. Nobody knows how long it all lasted. It brought relief to all – like a heavy burden was lifted from the heart! Slowly the last remains of dirt fell down, but the dust was still in the air when they came again and the wave came from the other direction. It all started again, the earth was shaking again under their feet and around the men. Again the explosions were deafening. Dark clouds of smoke and dust rose high and covered the whole sky soon.

But every thing comes to an end at some point. When the planes were leaving, the silence came. This silence was almost hurtful. Something was missing. The nerves were still tense, minute, two, three – then they all collapsed. The men fell into the bottoms of the trenches, some fell asleep at once, some, and let's be understanding here, began to cry… If the enemy would have had a descent company now, it would have been easy for them to "walk" over the defence lines. But on that day the enemy didn't have this type of a unit anymore – the enemy had bleed to death. More than a hundred crushed iron giants were lying in front of the Narva positions.

At night, during 2 o'clock, the battalion was exchanged by one Wehrmacht unit. The men came to the Andrejevka village in the dark and got into the cars. One Wehrmacht officer was standing there and quarreled – how long does he have to wait until all men will leave the positions? He was very surprised to hear that all men were already in the cars. But the majority of the cars left empty…

The Izium battles were mentioned:

Eesti Sõna, August 11, 1943
The leader acknowledged the Estonians heroicness.
The Battalion Narva stood out in the battle on the Southern Front.

According to the message sent from the headquarters, the volunteer Battalion Narva had especially stood out in the battles on the Southern Front. Division Wiking was very proud of its battalion. A message was sent concerning the Estonians heroic attitude and the leader said some very positive and acknowledging words about that.
Unfortunately the leader of Narva, SS-Sturmbannführer Eberhardt, was killed and several Estonian and German officers too. The leader gave Eberhardt the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross after his death.

Eesti Sõna, October 10, 1943 P
Abstracts from war writer Friedrich Wilhelm Abel's article Battalion Narva was like a steel wall: Bolshevists' attack was crushed like a wave against a cliff. The lines of the attackers rolled back beaten. Battalion Narva had kept its positions in the exact place where the bolshevists wanted to break through.

Division Wiking and the whole German army bows in front of the fallen comrades, who had been the wall in front of the "Soviet leap".

The Follow-Up

The German army leaders had taken the Estonians retreat into account, but it seemed incredible for the Germans that it never actually happened. When the battle ended, the local headquarters made a report for the Army Group Süd's headquarters about what had happened. The leader of the Süd headquarters, being aware of the situation on the front, couldn't believe the report and sent its control commission on the spot. The commissions act was found from the archive by German veterans and it said: There were 650 Estonian men in Izium battles, they had 3 German and 2 Soviet anti-tank cannons, magnetic mines and plenty of heavy machine guns MG-34 and MG-42, in addition they had submachine guns. The Russian side had more than 20,000 attackers and more than 100 tanks supported them. Like it was stated in the Middle Front's control commission's act, more than 9,000 attackers bodies were left on the battlefield and 113 tanks were destroyed. Estonians lost 69 men and 6 Germans, the next battle had a little more than 250 men, the others were hospitalized, most of them with mild injuries.

9,000 divided with 75 equals 120. So the relation was 1:120. Simple and logical.

Works Cited:

  • The first part of the Battalion Narva's history book Minu au on truudus. Tartu: Publishing House Greif, 1995
  • Hein, R. Hando Ruus kunstnik ja ohvitser. Tartu: Publishing House Greif, 2000

Dear Reader,

From July 19 to July 21, 2008 the Battalion Narva celebrated its 65-year anniversary from its first battles in Ukraine, under Izium. In this area far away they battled for Estonia's freedom and these rough battle days have become a legend by today. The men wanted to settle accounts with the enemy and end the war outside their homes so that our small nation would not suffer. We know that this was not what happened, but there is no doubt that the best Estonian sons in Battalion Narva did their best. They made a huge sacrifice, the holiest a man can make – gave their lives – to the altar of freedom.

Now, more than 65 years later, we know that this sacrifice was worth making and several generations were raised in the spirit of freedom who joined the war heroes in the first lines of the second Estonian national awakening. Estonia is free again and the honor of the heroes who fought for it stands higher than anything else. Who doesn't understand that, is a lackey of a foreign order, whether Brussels or Moscow. Do not forget these men, light a candle and bow your head. Take flowers to their graves.

With all respect,
The Club of Friends of the Estonian Legion