3rd Border Guard Reg. (Estnische SS-Grenzschutz Regiment Nr 3)


The story of the formation of the 3rd Border Guard Regiment is extraordinary because the regiment was formed twice. The formation began right after the mobilization was announced on February 1, 1944. The regiment's headquarters was formed in Pärnu. The regiment's leader was Lieutenant Colonel Mart Kaerma. Mart Kaerma (until 1940 Mart Haber) was born on February 2, 1897, graduated school in 1912 and after completing his studies at the ensigns' school on September 15, 1917 was promoted to officer. From December 5, 1918 he served at the Estonian 6th infantry regiment and participated in the War of Independence and was wounded in Petseri County under Laura – the bullet passed his chest. He served in the 6th single infantry battalion after the War of Independence and in 1923 was promoted to Lieutenant. In 1926 he received the Captain's rank, at that time he was already serving in the Military School. In 1931 he graduated the Higher Military School. In 1933 he served in the military's headquarters and was promoted to Major. In 1940 he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel. In 1941 led the Petseri Self-Defence and later Tallinn-Nõmme Self-Defence. Even later he was the leader of the Education Directory's people's raising department and Tallinn's prefect from where he went voluntarily to the front in 1944, according to his daughter.

The regiment's adjutant was Lieutenant Evald Paal. Aide-de-camp's duties were performed by Lieutenant Jaan Kurvits. Three battalions were formed quickly – Captain Mats Mödler's battalion in Pärnu, Captain Jüri Jürgen's battalion in Tartu and Captain Arnold Purre's battalion in Viljandi. The newly formed battalions were sent to Tallinn where a regiment was formed, which left under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Kaermaa. The regiment had 2,007 men, 46 officers, 145 junior officers and 1,816 soldiers. Thus the 3rd Border Guard Regiment's battalions existed only for a week the first time. The regiment was called the Tallinn Regiment (Estn. Rgt. Reval) and its new leader was Major Richard Rubach who then was the Mayor of Narva. At some point they were planning to name the regiment Narva but then the authorities remembered that an Estonian unit named Narva was already battling in Ukraine. February 12 the regiment was sent to Narva front where its battalions were divided to several German units. The regiment participated in destroying the Meriküla landing and in protecting Auvere area. After active battling ended on Narva front in March, the unit was merged with the Estonian 20th Division.

After the first battalions left under Kaermaa's command, immediately new ones were being formed. The 1st Battalion was formed out of Pärnu County men. The unit's leader was Major Juhan Purga. Adjutant was Lieutenant Ermil Paju and economy leader Lieutenant August Siimann. The 2nd Battalion was formed in Viljandi County. Its leader was Captain Elmar Kõlu. Economy leader's position was taken by Lieutenant Muttel. The battalion leader's adjutant was Hans Jams. The 3rd Battalion was formed out of Lääne and Saare County men. The battalion's leader was Captain Voldemar Veelma (Veltman). Later this position was taken over by Captain Aado Juhani. Adjutant was Lieutenant Teder. The regiment's artillery battery (the 13th Company) leader was Lieutenant Elken. He was later replaced by Lieutenant Poom.

This regiment had better equipment than most Estonian units. The uniforms were more or less suitable and some had never been worn before. The regiment was at first equipped with different – German, Dutch, French, Russian – weapons. Later, on the front, they received German weapons and Lieutenant Laur's attack company was equipped with Sturmwehrs. The regiment's car park was made up of 10 trucks, 6 cars and some motorcycles.

To the Front

After the regiment had been formed, the six-month training period was supposed to start but the situation on the front didn't allow it. February 22 they received an announcement that the 3rd Border Guard Regiment was subjected to the 207th Security Division and they received an order to move to the front. February 23 Lieutenant Colonel Kaermaa received an order from the division leader, General Lieutenant Erich Hofmann, to take the regiment to Pala area and further orders were given on the spot. The regiment took a train to Jõgeva and then went to Pala on foot. During the following days the regiment was situated on the bank of Peipsi, to perform coast guard duties in Sääritsa-Kodavere-Kallaste area. The regiment's headquarters was in Pala.

At the beginning of March the regiment was taken to Mustvee area to help eliminate the marauders destructive battalions that were coming over Peipsi ice. The regiment was sent to Tudulinn-Lohusuu area at the beginning of April. The men's equipment improved remarkably because the Estonians used wisdom when the Feldmarschall Walter Model (the leader of the Eastern Front's north part) and the corps leader, General Anton Grasser, came to inspect the regiment – they showed up in their worst uniforms. The regiment also received new field kitchens. At the end of April Major Purga's 1st Battalion was sent to the west bank of Narva river, to the area between Vasknarva and Permisküla village. The other two battalions remained on the northern coast of Lake Peipsi, in coast defence from Vasknarva to Lohusuu.

The summer was quite calm for the regiment and in mid-July the exchanges of fire became more frequent with the enemy. August 2 a battle broke out in the neighboring 2nd Border Guard Regiment's defence area. By evening the situation had become so difficult that the 3rd Border Guard Regiment's 2nd and 3rd Battalion were taken to Puhatu swamp to help the neighbors. August 3 both battalions participated in the battle, which's aim was to retake the 2nd Border Guard Regiment's positions but without the heavy weapons' support it failed. Nevertheless, the Russians were stopped. August 10 the battalion was brought back to the regiment's lines. The battalion's 11th and 12th Company's remains were sent to reserve and replaced on August 7 with the new 3rd Battalion, led by Captain Aado Juhan.

At the end of August the front became silent. But at the same time the situation on the southern front under Tartu became critical. The regiment's leader proposed several times that the 3rd Border Guard Regiment should be taken to Tartu front but the proposal was rejected. But some men did leave the unit arbitrarily to go and battle under Tartu. Regiment leader Mart Kaerma fell ill at the end of August and was hospitalized in Tallinn for some time but returned to his regiment at the beginning of September.

The Retreat

September 17 the regiment received an order to abandon its secured positions in Puhatu swamp and retreat to Rakke area, without knowing that the front under Tartu had been broken. The battalions left their positions one by one and got on their way. Besides them no one else was coming so they could mine the highway and sometimes they did it. But the road was rough. The men had been sitting in the trenches for months and thus the untrained men got tired quite fast. The men met a German storage keeper in Remniku and the latter had missed the order to retreat. And now he didn't have anything to do with his stuff. He didn't want to leave the equipment to the Russians so he told everyone to take what they wanted. But no one wanted to make their backpacks heavier, the men only took the champagne and drank it.

By the evening of September 19 they reached Rannapungerja. But that time they had already learned the reason to retreat, the locals also knew it and were moving towards the West massively, away from the Russians. The lines of refugees made the colon's moving very slow but men were not angry – these were the people on whose behalf they were fighting. They moved on from Rannapungerja running. In Tudulinn the men were allowed to sleep for 3 hours. Most men fell asleep on the same places where they had been standing. The regiment moved from Tudulinn to Avinurme, but in the early morning of September 20 it turned out that the Estonian Shooters' Corps had taken over the Pärniku crossroad one kilometer west of Avinurme. Thanks to this moving towards Avinurme became impossible. Around 7 a.m. some Estonian Division units began to attack the crossroad. The 3rd Border Guard Regiment, or some part of it, also participated in the attack.

Lieutenant Julius Põldmäe remembers: "We began moving from the Narva river's bank near Vasknarva on the night of September 18 and after a 24-hour journey reached Tudulinn about 40 kilometers away. At first the moving had been fast but from Kauksi there were obstacles on the road since the army that came from Narva was huge. There were trucks, horse carriages, artillery and infantry. Especially big obstacle was in Tudulinn where we arrived at night. Our battalion managed to break through somehow but as it turned out later, the rushing brought us misery: we were the first ones under attack. In the early morning our battalion was stopped by regiment leader Colonel Kaerma who announced briefly: the Russians have broken through the front under Tartu and behind Avijõgi, on the Mustvee-Rakvere crossroads, the Russians were standing.

Our battalion received an order: move onwards to Avinurme, cross the river and kick the enemy away from its positions. Battalion leader Major Purga was like in every decisive moment 'in high spirits' but still managed to give orders to the companies. My company received an order. We were told to cross the river with one group and the other groups had to cross the river right of the bridge. This was the only leading of my men during the battle. We began to move towards Avinurme all together. According to the clock the sun should have been high in the sky but we could only guess that: the whole area was covered with thick fog. The visibility was about a few meters. I can confirm that I had never seen before nor have I seen after so thick fog.

When we approached to the river, I ordered the groups to spread out. I gave Lieutenant Talts an order to cross the bridge with his unit, I moved with the other units until the shore right of the bridge. And that's when the confusions began. The other bank greeted us with heavy firing and other units were pressuring us from behind. The units mixed, men didn't recognize their own men anymore, the fog made visibility impossible, the river bank was full of men running back and forth, some lied on the ground because the machine gun fire became stronger all the time. It seemed to be coming from the right in front of us. I passed a message to my men to cross the river and suppress these fire nests. There were strange fighters among my men as well. One police battalion member yelled when he saw me: 'Look, one officer is here too,' and fell on the ground right after saying that. A bullet had gone through his head and death was instant.

I repeated the order and jumped into the water with two messengers. The visibility was bad but according to the splattering of the water the followers were on both sides. The water almost reached to my chest. When we reached the opposite bank, we directed the fire to the direction where we thought the enemy's shooting nests were and managed to destroy their machine guns. We moved a few hundred meters onwards from the river and using the momentary silence, I wrote a report to the battalion's leader. Mounted messenger Lõhmus got on his way with the report and soon disappeared behind the wall of fog. That's how this hell began. We were the targets of a destructive fire. This time it seemed that the artilleries and mine throwers were shooting. In addition, it seemed that the shooting came from every direction. Suddenly I felt a light stroke in my heart's area, dirt was flying into my face and a few steps behind me a messenger, strong farmer from Pärnu County whose name I do not remember, fell down. A grenade splinter had cut a deep wound on his neck, luckily it missed the artery. I tied the wound as well as I knew and since there were no one seen or heard in the area, I took my companion and began moving. I crossed the river again! Although my companion was heavier than me, I still managed to carry him to Avinurme church where the bandaging point was. The attack across the river and dealing with the wounded man had taken a lot of time and the situation near the church, where the higher leaders were supposed to be, had changed a lot. There seemed to be no controlling of the battle anymore and perhaps it was missing already before. Our battalion leader and adjutant Lieutenant Emil Paju were still there but Paju was looking for a reason to leave. I went to the bridge once again but there was no one there anymore. Then I headed towards Tudulinn too. The fog had already disappeared.

I mentioned earlier that the shooting came from every direction. 6 or 7 years later in accidentally met Lõhmus in Tallinn-Väike railway station and he said that after he left me, he was immediately wounded. Thus my report about crossing the river never reached its destination."

The attack lasted until 1 p.m. but the forces were too unequal and the breakthrough attempt failed. That was how the regiment's war path came to an end. The men straggled. Some went to become forest brothers, some were imprisoned, some broke into the West. Those who escaped to Finland were unlucky because the Finnish government handed them in to the Russians.

After the regiment stopped existing, Colonel Mart Kaerma hid himself for four years in his father's home in Kaera-Vanatoa, Raikküla. When the NKVD raids became more frequent in 1948, he decided to commit a suicide to save his family. Colonel Kaerma poisoned himself on April 8, 1948 with potassium cyanide. His wife and brother buried his body under the potato pile at night. His grave has not yet been found.

Regiment's ajutant Captain Evald Paal arrived to England in 1947 and later to Canada, where he passed away in the winter of 1981. The 1st Battalion leader Major Juhan Purga hid in the forests of Pärnu County and in 1945 was killed as a forest brother in Kilingi-Nõmme. There have been different versions of the destiny of the 2nd Battalion leader, Captain Elmar Kõlu. According to the battalion's liaison men he had died in September 1944 in Avinurme battle, other data claim that he died in 1950 in Bratsk. It is also possible that Kõlu was seriously injured in Avinurme battle and died in Russian prison camp later. The 3rd Battalion's first leader, Captain Voldemar-August Veelma lived in Germany after the war and died in September 1951. The second leader, Captain Aado Juhani, died in 1978 in Tallinn.

Two officers, regiment's doctor Lieutenant Harald Tuul and accounting officer Lieutenant Ants Jõe, who on September 18, 1944 were in Tallinn and were unable to return to the battalion because of the Red Army's attack, hid in Harju County. In November they met regiment's aide-de-camp Lieutenant Jaan Kurvits in Vihterpalu, who worked at the local forest range. The men hid in his barn until December 7, 1944 when they escaped to Finland on a small sailboat and on December 8 reached Alglo. A few days later, immediately after they had requested a residence permit in Tammisaari, they were arrested by Security Police Valpo and taken to the Oiti interns' camp. On January 2, 1945 they were handed over to the Soviet Union.

Regiment's Leader
Lieutenant Colonel Mart Kaermaa February 2, 1897 until April 8, 1948, Estonia

Senior Lieutenant Evald Paal January 13, 1908 until January 18, 1981

Lieutenant Jaan Kurvits September 14, 1906 until …

Accounting Officer
Lieutenant Ants Jõe August 10, 1905 until February 22, 1987, Viljandi

Court Officer
Lieutenant Juhan Kohjus August 1, 1906 until August 8, 1984, USA

Economy Leader
Lieutenant Schmidt

Lieutenant Harald Tuul February 12, 1916 until January 9, 1985, Taishet

Headquarters Company Leader
Captain August-Voldemar Vahar August 8, 1906 until …

Liaison Company Leader
Lieutenant Valentin Rannap July 2, 1917 until …

Attack Company Leader
Lieutenant Otto Lauri March 24, 1905 until …, Australia

Training Company Leader
Lieutenant Artur Palgi May 10, 1909 until December 22, 1993, Tallinn

Anti-Tank Company Leader
Lieutenant Eduard Tamm July 8, 1914 until …

Pioneers Company Leader
Captain Johann Meimer June 19, 1904 until December 10, 1944, Lääne County

Regiment Tallinn (Estnische Regiment Reval)
Leader – Major Richard Rubach June 29, 1899 until November 17, 1949, Germany
1st Battalion Leader – Captain Mats Mölder September 12, 1904 until March 31, 1986, Sweden
2nd Battalion Leader – Captain Jüri Jürgen June 16, 1901 until September 27, 1995, Estonia
3rd Battalion Leader – Captain Arnold Purre October 27, 1902 until September 16, 1986, Sweden

1st Battalion Leader
Major Juhan Purga June 1, 1896 until Autumn 1945, Kilingi-Nõmme

Lieutenant Ermil Paju December 16, 1916 until August 8, 1957, Uppsala

Liaison Leader
Lieutenant Eino Kiho December 15, 1912 until …

Economy Leader
Lieutenant August Siimann May 12, 1909 until April 2, 1996, Toronto

1st Company Leader
Lieutenant Julius Põldmäe January 6, 1911 until March 6, 2007, Tallinn

2nd Company Leader

3rd Company Leader

4th Company Leader

2nd Battalion Leader
Captain Elmar Kõlu July 26, 1906 until …

Hans Jams

5th Company Leader
Lieutenant Eduard Heil December 29, 1911 until …
Lieutenant Evald Paikre September 5, 1906 until August 3, 1944, near Vasknarva

6th Company Leader
Lieutenant Aksel Türk
Lieutenant Karl Aid

7th Company Leader

8th Company Leader

3rd Battalion Leader
Captain Voldemar-August Veelma June 9, 1903 until September 29, 1951, Germany
Captain Aado Juhani March 27, 1900 until April 25, 1978, Tallinn

Lieutenant Valdo Teder January 21, 1915 until November 13, 1944

Lieutenant Kaarel Pedak May 12, 1914 until …

Lieutenant Voldemar Aus June 3, 1912 until …
Lieutenant Heino Pehka August 8, 1917 until September 21, 1944, Porkuni

Lieutenant Jaan Rõuk

9th Company Leader
Lieutenant Aadu Regi November 3, 1912; in 2008 lived in Tartu

10th Company Leader
Senior Lieutenant Nikolai Viru July 4, 1904 until October 14, 1970, Estonia

11th Company Leader
Lieutenant Arvo Kann

12th Company Leader
Captain Voldemar-August Veelma (check the Battalion Leader)
Lieutenant Valter Krimm December 21, 1902 until 1944

13th Company (Battery) Leader
Lieutenant August Elken May 11, 1907 until 1983, Australia
Lieutenant Aleksander Poom August 27, 1891 until October 1965, New York

Works Cited

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  • Kraft, Ü. Eesti piirikaitserügementide ohvitserkord 1944. aastal
  • The yearbook of Estonian War Museum and General Laidoner Museum of 2006
  • Laar, M. Emajõgi 1944. Tallinn, 2005
  • Laar, M. Isamaa ilu hoieldes. Stockholm, 1997
  • Laar, M. September 1944. Tallinn, 2007
  • Laar, M. Sinimäed 1944. Tallinn, 2006
  • Tamberg, M. Eesti mehed sõjatules. Saku, 1999
  • Leetmaa, M. Sõjas ja ikestatud Eestis. Stockholm, 1979
  • Villako, K. Ajarännak. Mälestused 1944. aasta sügisest tänapäevani. Volumes I and II. Taru, 2001
  • Eesti riik ja rahvas II maailmasõjas. Volume IX. Stockholm, 1960