Eastern Battalions

Security Groups

In August 1941, after Estonia was freed from the Soviet Union's occupation, the OKW and the Estonian Local Government began cooperating in order to recruit volunteers to Wehrmacht's 18th and 16th Army's security groups. The order to form security groups came at the end of August 1941 from the German 18th Army's leader, Generaloberst Georg von Küchler , who soon became the leader of the Army Group Nord and was promoted to Generalfeldmarschall.

The legal problem – the law stated that non-Germans were not allowed to serve in Wehrmacht – was solved quickly by the Germans. The units made up of Estonian men were not called battalions but groups (Sicherungsgruppe). There were no groups in Wehrmacht... The security groups were administratively subjected to the home front leader, but operatively to Wehrmacht divisions.

The 6 security groups, formed based on territorial principle, received the numbers 181 to 186 (the last, the 186th, formation was unfinished and it never participated in any battles) and two single companies (no 13 and 17), which were subjected to the 183rd and 184th security group. The security groups were responsible for protecting the railways, highways and other militarily and strategically important objects, also guarding the war prisoners and controlling the partisans and Russians in the forests. In addition, the backup-training security group was formed, which was located in Narva and which the soldiers called the main unit. This unit was responsible for supplying the security groups, dealing with the men on vacation or in hospitals, etc. The backup-training group did not have a number. In August 1942 the halfly formed security group no 186 was dismissed and the men were sent to the main unit in Narva.

Leaders of the Security Group No 181/658:
Major August Vask, Captain Paul Paas, Major Julius Ellandi, Captain Alfons Rebane;

Leaders of the Security Group No 182/659:
Captain Rihard Tammemägi, Captain Paul Paas, Captain Rudolf Mikumägi, Major Georg Sooden;

Leaders of the Security Group No 183:
Lieutenant Colonel Hermann Stockeby, Senior Lieutenant Evald Ant, Major Erich Ellram;

Leaders of the Security Group No 184/660:
Major Erich Ellram, Major Julius Ellandi, Captain Julius Edor;

Leaders of the Security Group No 185:
Major August Kõrgma, Major Osvald Hansen, Captain and Pilot Artur Asu;

Leaders of the Security Group No 186:
Major Julius Ellandi.

The Fischer's Battalion was led by Oberleutenant/Hauptmann Georg Fischer from the beginning until the end

Each security group had 657 men, 57 of them were in the headquarters and 600 were divided into four companies, each company having 150 men. The numeration of the companies was unified (Security Group 181 – 1-4; Security Group 182 – 5-8, etc.). The Security Group No 181 was formed in Tartu and Põltsamaa, No 182 in Viljandi (6th and 7th companies), Tartu (the headquarters and the 5th company) and Põltsamaa (8th company). No 183 was formed in Pärnu (9th, 10th and 11th company) and Paide (12th company). No 184 was formed in Rakvere (the headquarters and one company), Lüganuse and Püssi (two companies) and Narva (one company). The group No 185 was formed in Tallinn and No 186 in Jamburg (Kingissepa). A contract of service was made with the soldiers who arrived to recruiting places and it initially lasted for one year. By May 1, 1942 the security groups had 4,050 men. The leaders of the security groups were all Estonian officers and each had one German liaison officer. The officers of the security groups wore special star-system instead of collar patches and sonderführer's shoulder patches, which later, after the Estonians showed their battle skills, were replaced with normal ones.

After the formation the security groups were sent to Russia where they often had to go to the forefront, in addition to keeping guard, because of the intense situation on the front. Despite their unequal weapons (Russian, German, Belgian and Dutch weapons) and lack of succifient training, the security groups proved to be battle-ready and caused the enemy great losses. In November 1941 the skiiers' companies were formed for the security groups – for example, the 181st got 2 companies, the 182nd 7 companies, the 183rd 9 companies and the 184th 15 companies. These companies became widely known in the same winter during the stabilizing of the Volkhov front and by fulfilling extremely important intelligence assignments. Estonian security groups proved to be outstanding battle units and they were often brought as examples to the German, Lithuanian, Latvian and Spanish units of that area.

By October 1942 the number of members in the security groups had decreased drastically because of the killed, wounded and those men whose time of service had ended, thus the security units were merged and in the end only the 181st, 182nd and 184th Security Group existed along with the 13th unit. The legal situation had also changed, meaning that Wehrmacht was now allowed to form "eastern units".

Eastern Battalions

Thus three Eastern Battalions, with the numbers 658 (Major Alfons Rebane), 659 (Major Georg Sooden) and 660 (Major Heinrich Ellram), were formed and these were subjected to the 18th Army's Eastern Battalions' leader. In addition, one Eastern Company with the number 657 was formed. The latter was subjected to the 16th Army's Eastern Battalions' leader and operated further south from the other Estonian units. The Narva unit also remained active and it was allowed to send out its own battalion (the so-called Fischer's Battalion).

By the end of 1943 the 658th and 659th Eastern Battalion were under Novgorod and near Lake Ilmen on the forefront. The 660th Eastern Battalion was behind Narva and the 657th Eastern Company was near Staraja Russa. By mid-January 1944 the Red Army had gathered its strength under Leningrad and on the Oranienbaum bridgehead and these powers exceeded the German powers largely. The Red Army's attack began on January 14, 1944 and it also started under Novgorod, on Volkhov front. The 59th Army passed Novgorod with a large circle and the German 18th Army was in danger of being surrounded. In order to avoid this, the Estonian Eastern Battalions 658 and 659 began to cover the retreat of the German forces. Major Alfons Rebane's masterful leadership helped the outnumbered Estonians destroy the whole Red Army's shooters' division. For these battles Alfons Rebane received the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross as the first Estonian.

The German Army now retreated to the defence line of the Panthers on the Estonian border. The war had once again reached Estonia... In this rough situation the German leaders decided to bring all units consisting of Estonians back to Estonia so that they could protect their homeland. In the early spring of 1944 the Eastern Battalions returned to Estonia and they were taken to the forest camps in Toila for reorganising. The Eastern Battalions were subjected to the 20th Estonian SS Division. The men from the 657th Single Company were distrubited, the division's 46th Regiment's 3rd Battalion was made up of the men from the 660th Battalion on April 18, 1944. The 47th Regiment's 1st and 2nd battalions were made up of the 658th and 659th Battalions on April 24. The time of the Eastern Battalions had come to an end. Rough battles in Estonia were yet to come...