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  History   1940–1992. Soviet era a ...   Warfare in Estonia in 1 ...
1940–1992. Soviet era and the restoration of independence

 
Warfare in Estonia in 1944
  In early 1944, the Red Army defeated the German Nord group of armies that had laid siege to Leningrad. Estonia was left almost totally undefended. Disorganised German troops retreated to Estonia and the Russian vanguard in pursuit crossed the Narva River on the eastern border of Estonia in early February. The Wehrmacht leadership decided to defend Estonia, as retreat would have meant that Finland would leave the war and the Soviet Navy would escape the eastern corner of the Gulf of Finland; this in turn would have jeopardised the transport of iron ore by sea from Northern Sweden which was vital for Germany.
 
  As there were not enough forces to defend Estonia and Latvia, general conscription of the local population into the German army was announced. The Estonian local administration working under the German authorities announced mobilisation on 31 January 1944. Estonian nationalist circles led by Jüri Uluots, the last prime minister in the Republic of Estonia, supported this development. They hoped that Estonia’s independence could be restored, assuming that a new Soviet occupation could be avoided. It was also hoped that the West would help the Baltic countries: on 14 August 1941, after all, it had been stipulated in the US-British Atlantic Charter that the independence of all the peoples lost during the war would be restored. The Soviet Union had signed the Charter the same year and decided, for example, to recognise the Polish government in exile in London, although Soviet troops had invaded and occupied half of Poland in 1940.
 
Autor: Sven Karjahärmi kogu
A view of Narva before WWII
  This new German mobilisation in Estonia, which was widely supported, was successful: 38 000 men were conscripted and formed into seven border guard regiments and a number of smaller units. Other Estonian forces that had fought on various fronts were rushed to Estonia. Largely thanks to conscripted Estonians and Dutch, Walloon, Norwegian and Danish volunteers, the advance of the Red Army was stopped at the Estonian border for eight months (February–September 1944).
 
Autor: Eesti Ajaloomuuseum
Narva and Jaanilinn during WWII
  To break the fighting spirit of the Estonian troops, the Soviet air force started terrorist attacks on Estonian cities in March. The border city of Narva, from where the local inhabitants and German military offices had been evacuated from the advancing front line, was razed to the ground. Next Tartu, Tapa and Jõhvi suffered extensive damage. During the night of 9 March, Tallinn was bombed, which destroyed part of the Old Town and about one third of domestic housing in the city. Over 900 people perished, including Soviet prisoners of war.
 
  The bombings, however, did not accomplish their aims: despite huge losses, the Red Army was not able to invade Estonia in the course of their new onslaught in the summer of 1944. As the situation had aggravated in other sections of the eastern front, the German commanders decided to withdraw their troops from Estonia. The general withdrawal began on 17 September.
 
Autor: Eesti Filmiarhiiv
War refugees on their way to Sweden
  With the German troops retreating, the Estonian nationalist circles attempted to re-establish the Republic of Estonia. On 18 September, Jüri Uluots, the last prime minister of the Estonian Republic, who according to the constitution undertook the duties of the president, appointed a government led by Otto Tief. The government declared Estonia’s neutrality in the ongoing Soviet-German war, sought recognition from the Western states and tried to maintain control of Tallinn. But their efforts came to nothing.
 
  Thousands of civilians left the country with the retreating German troops or in boats over the stormy sea. Nearly 70 000 Estonians managed to reach the West; how many lives were claimed by the sea is not known. By the end of the Second World War, every tenth Estonian lived abroad. Large and vigorous Estonian colonies formed in Sweden, Canada and the USA.
 
  Estonia lost altogether a whole quarter of its population in the war, i.e. 282 000 people — either dead, fled abroad or deported. 30 000 men were killed in action. Estonia also lost all its minorities: the Baltic Germans left for Germany in 1939–1940, the coastal Swedes went to Sweden in 1943–1944, the Jews were exterminated, and the districts with a Russian majority across the Narva River, in Pechory (Petseri) and in Ivangorod (total 2334 sq km, 56 000 inhabitants) were incorporated into Russia in late 1944. This action violated even the existing laws of the Soviet Union. In early 1945, the population of Estonia was no more than 800 000, of whom 97–98 per cent were Estonians.
 
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