Battle of Tannenberg Line

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Battle of Tannenberg Line
Part of Eastern Front (World War II)
Tannenberg1944.jpg
Front line positions
Date 25 July – 10 August 1944
Location Sinimäed Hills, Estonia
59°22′32″N 27°51′17″E / 59.37556°N 27.85472°E / 59.37556; 27.85472Coordinates: 59°22′32″N 27°51′17″E / 59.37556°N 27.85472°E / 59.37556; 27.85472
Result Tactical German victory
Belligerents
Nazi Germany Germany
Estonian Division.jpg Estonian conscripts,
auxiliary police and border defense
Soviet Union Soviet Union
Commanders and leaders
Felix Steiner Leonid Govorov
Units involved
III (Germanic) SS Panzer Corps
XXVI Army Corps
4 Estonian police battalions
Eastern sector, coastal defense
Two Estonian border defense regiments
2nd Shock Army
8th Army
8th 'Estonian' Rifle Corps
Strength
22,250 troops[1]
7 tanks[2][3]
70–80 assault guns[3]
49 aircraft[4][5]
136,830 troops[6]
150 armoured vehicles[7]
1680 assault guns[7]
546 aircraft[4][5]
Casualties and losses
Contemporary estimate:
2,500 dead or missing
7,500 wounded or sick[8]
6 tanks[7]
10,000 total casualties
Contemporary estimate:
35,000 dead or missing
135,000 wounded or sick[8]
157–164 tanks[7]
170,000 total casualties

This is a sub-article to Battle of Narva (1944).

The Battle of Tannenberg Line (German: Die Schlacht um die Tannenbergstellung; Estonian: Sinimägede lahing; Russian: Битва за линию «Танненберг») was a military engagement between the German Army Detachment "Narwa" and the Soviet Leningrad Front. They fought for the strategically important Narva Isthmus from 25 July to 10 August 1944. The battle was fought on the Eastern Front during World War II. The strategic aim of the Soviet Estonian Operation was to reoccupy Estonia as a favourable base for the invasions of Finland and East Prussia. Several Western scholars refer to it as the Battle of the European SS for the 24 volunteer infantry battalions from Denmark, East Prussia, Flanders, Holland, Norway, and Wallonia within the Waffen-SS. Roughly half of the infantry consisted of local Estonian conscripts motivated to resist the looming Soviet re-occupation. The German force of 22,250 men held off 136,830 Soviet troops. As the Soviet forces were constantly reinforced, the casualties of the battle were 150,000–200,000 dead and wounded Soviet troops and 157–164 tanks.

Background[edit]

View from the summit of the Grenaderimägi hill towards the Lastekodumägi hill

After defending the Narva bridgehead for six months, the German forces fell back to the Tannenberg Line in the hills of Sinimäed (Russian: Синие горы) on 26 July 1944. The three hills run east to west. The eastern hill was known to Estonians as the Lastekodumägi (Orphanage Hill; Kinderheimhöhe in German). The central was the Grenaderimägi (Grenadier Hill; Grenadierhöhe) and the westernmost was the Tornimägi (Tower hill, also known in German as or 69.9 or Liebhöhe (Love hill)). The heights have steep slopes and rise 20-50 m above the surrounding land.

The formations of Gruppenführer Felix Steiner's III SS (Germanic) Panzer Corps halted their withdrawal and moved into defensive positions on the hills. The 4th SS Volunteer Panzergrenadier Brigade Nederland started digging in on the left (north) flank of the Tannenberg Line, units of the 20th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (1st Estonian) in the centre, and the 11th SS Volunteer Panzergrenadier Division Nordland on the right (south) flank. Another front section manned by the East Prussians of the 11th Infantry Division was situated a few kilometres further south, against the 8th Army in the Krivasoo bridgehead.[5]

The Soviet Marshall Leonid Govorov considered the Tannenberg Line as the key position of Army Group North and concentrated the best forces of the Leningrad Front.[9] Additional 122nd, 124th Rifle Corps and divisions from 117th Rifle Corps were subordinated to General Ivan Fedyuninsky, commanding the 2nd Shock Army.[5] The goal set by the War Council of the 2nd Shock Army was to break through the defense line of the III SS Panzer Corps at the Lastekodumägi, force their way to the town of Jõhvi in the west and reach the Kunda River by 1 August.[4] To accomplish this, Govorov was ordered to destroy communications behind the German forces and conduct air assaults on the railway stations of Jõhvi and Tapa on 26 July.[4]

Comparison of forces[edit]

Soviet[edit]

There is no complete overview of the order of the Soviet forces or the detachment sizes in the Battle of Tannenberg Line.[5] For the attack on 29 July, Leonid Govorov concentrated all of the capable Soviet units, consisting of eleven divisions and six tank regiments.[2][7] The Soviet units that had suffered losses were brought up to strength with fresh manpower. The delivery of Soviet heavy artillery complimented the nine divisions of the 109th, the 117th and the 122nd Rifle Corps.[5] The 109th and 117th Corps were concentrated close to the Sinimäed, while the 122nd Rifle Corps to the southern section by the church of Vaivara Parish. The positions of the 11th Infantry Division were mainly attacked by the 35,000-strong 8th Army with their 112th Rifle Corps, two fresh Tank Regiments, 1,680 assault guns, deployed in nine artillery regiments and 150 armoured vehicles.[7] The armored forces included the brand new IS-2 tanks with extra armour and 122mm gun. The weakness of the tank was its limited ammunition capacity (only 28 rounds) and long reloading time for its main gun. The forces were supported by the 576-strong 13th Air Army.[7] The Soviet order of battle (available data as of 28 July 1944):[5]

Leningrad Front - Marshall Leonid Govorov

Total: 26,850 infantrymen, 458 pieces of artillery, 112 tanks

Total: 28,000 infantrymen, 518 pieces of artillery, 174 tanks and 44 self-propelled guns

Separate Corps and Divisions (possibly subordinated to one the above mentioned Armies):[5]

German[edit]

Against the Soviet forces, a few tired German regiments without any reserve troops stood at their positions, battered by the Soviet artillery. The commander of the Army Detachment "Narwa", General der Infanterie, Anton Grasser, assessed the German capacity as insufficient against the Soviet attack. While sufficient in ammunition and machine-guns, the combat morale of the Germanic volunteers was under heavy pressure while the spirit of some Estonian troops had already been severely damaged in Grasser's opinion.[2][7] However, the following combat proved the opposite.[7] The small number of German Junkers Ju 87 dive bombers and shortage of aeroplane fuel gave the Soviets massive air superiority.[2][7] Grasser's conclusion was short:[2][7]

The Army Detachment emphasizes that the situation is extremely intense and the great difference between ours and the enemy's forces demands the greatest attention from the High Command.

Leaving diplomatic formulation aside, Grasser announced that without immediate reinforcements, the Soviets would inevitably break through the Tannenberg Line on 29 June.[2][7] Such reinforcements were beyond the capacities of Army Group North. The commander of the Army Group, Ferdinand Schörner, had repeatedly called Adolf Hitler's attention to the fact that virtually no division consisting of Germans was left at the Tannenberg Line, which was threatening to collapse. These calls had no effect, as Hitler's response remained to stand or die.[7] The German order of battle (as of 28 July 1944) was:[5]

Army Detachment "Narwa" - General der Infanterie Anton Grasser

Separate detachments:

Total: 22,250 troops[1] deployed in 25 Estonian and 24 German, Dutch, Danish, Flemish, Norwegian, and Walloon battalions[5]

Combat[edit]

Lastekodumägi[edit]

26 July[edit]

On 26 July, pursuing the withdrawing Germans, the Soviet attack fell onto the Tannenberg Line before the vastly outnumbered Army Detachment "Narwa" had dug-in. The Soviet Air Force and artillery covered the German positions with bombs and shells, destroying most of the forest on the hills.[5][7] The headquarters of the newly arrived Flemish 6th SS Volunteer Sturmbrigade Langemarck were destroyed and almost all of their officers wounded. Sturmbannführer Wilhelm Rehmann left the battlefield, as Leutnant George D'Haese stepped in to bring the brigade back to combat-readiness.[10] The German batteries were badly hit; the commander of one of them was killed. It took a few days for Steiner to repair the assault guns and until this had been completed the impact of the German artillery remained modest.[11] Benefiting from the disorder, the Soviet 201st and 256th Rifle Divisions supported by the 98th Tank Regiment assaulted the positions of the "Nordland" Division seizing the eastern side of the Lastekodumägi.[9] In the darkness of the following night, the Anti-Tank Company, SS Panzergrenadier Regiment 24 "Danmark" destroyed the Soviet tanks and regained their positions.[12]

27 July[edit]

In the morning of 27 July, the Soviet forces began another powerful artillery barrage toward the Sinimäed. Anticipating an infantry attack, Steiner concentrated the few working armored vehicles consisting of seven tanks[2][3] under the command of Obersturmbannführer Paul Albert Kausch. Steiner placed them behind the westernmost Tornimägi hill in readiness positions.[13] A company of Nebelwerfer rocket launchers were placed behind them, being able to fire 48 projectiles within a few seconds.[12] Units of the "Nordland" Division were placed between the two hills and the defense was completed by the Anti-Tank Company, 1st Estonian behind the "Nordland".[7]
The Soviet attack concentrated at the Lastekodumägi and the Danmark Regiment south of it. The Danish anti-tank company used their Panzerfausts to set fourteen tanks on fire.[14] Meanwhile, the Soviet infantry forced the weakened "Langemarck" Sturmbrigade to leave the south side of the Lastekodumägi and dig new trenches in front of the Grenaderimägi.[10] As a last resort, Unterscharführer Remi Schrijnen used the only heavy weapon left in the sturmbrigade, a 7.5 cm PaK 40 anti-tank gun. Schrijnen was wounded and cut off from the rest of his troops when he started acting as both the loader and gunner. He and the Flemish heavy machine-gunners halted several Soviet tank attacks threatening to encircle the "Langemarck" and the Estonian battalions.[15]
The Soviet attack also failed to penetrate the defence line of the II.Battalion, SS Volunteer Panzergrenadier Regiment 49 "De Ruyter". Several Soviet tanks broke through to the headquarters of the battalion, which were repulsed by Gruppenführer Fritz von Scholz Edler von Rerancze sending twelve assault guns forward from the reserve.[12] South from Lastekodumägi, the Soviet forces broke through the defense of the "Danmark" Regiment and seized control of most of the hill by night time.[14]

Under Soviet pressure, the German defense threatened to collapse. On 27 July, Schörner arrived at the Sinimäed. He ordered an immediate recapture of the Lastekodumägi, demanding fanatical resistance from the soldiers.[2][7] A meeting convened by von Scholz, laid the tactics for the implementation of the orders. Directly after the meeting, von Scholz was killed by a shrapnel splinter in front of the headquarters.[7]

On the night before 28 July, the SS Reconnaissance Battalion 11, "Nordland" and the I. Batallion, Waffen Grenadier Regiment 47 (3rd Estonian), launched a ferocious counterattack. Heavy casualties were inflicted on both sides - the Estonian battalion was destroyed.[14] The fighting for the Lastekodumägi was carried on to 28 July as one continuous battle. The II.Battalion, "Nordland" launched their fierce attempt to capture the Lastekodumägi which the Soviets repulsed. The surviving German forces fell back to the Grenaderimägi.[14]

28 July[edit]

For the next day, the 2nd Shock Army was reinforced with the 31st and the 82nd Tank Regiments, three howitzer brigades, and nine heavy artillery regiments. In the morning of 28 July, the Soviet forces made a ferocious attempt to out-flank the German forces resisting at the Lastekodumägi from the north side. With the last anti-tank gun of the "Langemarck" destroying the Soviet armoured force, the Soviets were denied a breakthrough. They suffered heavy casualties, but ordered an air and artillery assault aimed at destroying the withdrawing German units. Anticipating the attack, the German troops advanced into no-man's-land close to the Soviet units instead. In close combat, a Flemish regiment of the "Langemarck" repulsed the Soviets which brought it to near destruction.[14]

In the evening of 28 July, the German forces attempted to regain the Lastekodumägi again. Using the tactics of "rolling" small units into the Soviet positions, the troops seized the trenches on the slope of the feature. When a Soviet tank squadron arrived, the German attack collapsed.[7] At a portion of the German 11th Infantry Division near the borough of Sirgala in the south, the Soviet tanks aimed to break through. Steiner ordered a withdrawal to a new defenseive line at the Grenaderimägi. The order did not reach a significant part of the German forces who remained in their positions at the Lastekodumägi. Anticipating a major attack, Steiner ordered the heavy weapons of the SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment 23 "Norge" and the "Danmark" Regiment to be pulled together into two shock units. By the night of 28 July, the battle had subsided.[7]

Grenaderimägi[edit]

Preparatory fire[edit]

The morning of 29 July began with the preparatory artillery fire of 25,000 shells fired by the Soviets.[5] The bombardment covered the Tannenberg Line in a dust cloud. The forest on the Sinimäed Hills was entirely destroyed, with the trees cut down to a height of two–three metres. While having a great psychological effect, the "Katyushas" or so-called "Stalin organs" were inaccurate, causing little damage to the well dug-in German troops. The 70–80 German Nebelwerfers answered. This was followed by Soviet bombers trying to hit the last of the German troops, ducking down in their trenches. Dressed in camouflage uniforms, they remained unseen by the Soviet pilots.[7]

Soviet advance guards on the Grenaderimägi[edit]

The attack of the 6,000 Soviet infantry[4] began at 0900, supported by a regiment of nearly 100 tanks (most of them of the heavy IS-2 variety). They used their 122 mm guns to fire directly at the strong points showing any signs of life and destroyed the remaining bunkers.[4][16] The remmnants of the German advance guard were destroyed. The platoon commanded by lieutenant Lapshin broke through to the top of the Grenaderimägi. Special courage was shown by Sergeant Efendiyev who destroyed a German strong point on the hill. The Komsomol organiser, V.I. Lavreshin of the 937th Rifle Regiment who had been marching ahead of his troops with a red flag in his hands, and erected it at the summit.[4] The small German units who still resisted were paid no special attention by the Soviets as the main attack was carried westwards.[17]

Attack of Soviet main forces[edit]

The principle of the Soviet attack in the Sinimäed was an overwhelming frontal shock, with only a few of the attackers presumed to have reached the target.[7] With artillery fire preventing any reinforcements sent in from the German rear, the Soviet 8th Army went on the attack and drove a wedge into the north flank of the 11th Infantry Division. The Soviet main tactical goal, the Grenaderimägi, was to be assaulted by the 6,000 soldiers of the 109th Rifle Corps. The 109th Rifle Division attacked the "Nederland" who were covering the hill from the north.[5] The 120th Rifle Division hit the Grenaderimägi from the east. The 72nd Rifle Division assaulted the II. Battalion, 3rd Estonian Regiment which were defending the northern flank. The 117th Rifle Corps stood ready to break through the last of the German defenses.[2][7] The Lastekodumägi fell to the Soviets with the 191st Rifle Regiment at the head of the Soviet attack. These suffered great casualties from the fire of the last defenders who in turn were either killed or forced to the next hill, the Grenaderimägi. With the seizure of the Lastekodumägi, the Soviet 201st and the 256th Rifle Divisions were exhausted as the 109th Rifle Division continued to press towards the Grenaderimägi alone. The defenders were commanded by Josef Bachmeier, the head of the II. Battalion, "Norge". The I. and II. Battalions, 3rd Estonian subordinated to Bachmeier had 20 to 30 men each. For the defense of the Grenaderimägi, every available Estonian was sent into battle, including communications personnel.[7] The central command post was destroyed by Soviet fire while the Germans, Flemish, Norwegians and Estonians escaped destruction by lying down in their bunkers. Behind them at the summit of the Grenadermägi, stood the "Nederland". The gaps created in the attacking infantry and tank line by the German artillery did not stop the Soviet advance.[7]

Soviet encirclement[edit]

The 109th Rifle Division passed the remnants of the II. Battalion, "De Ruyter" which used their light machine guns to cause heavy casualties to the Soviets. The Soviet attack ran into the camouflaged anti-tank gun of Remi Schrijnen standing near the northeastern corner of the hill.[17] Meeting the Soviet attack, he fired his gun, destroying seven tanks in the course of which he was severely wounded when his gun was destroyed by an IS-2 tank returning fire from 30 metres.[15] Despite Schrijnen's heroics, the Soviet tanks besieged the Grenaderimägi and kept circling the hill, all the while firing away at the defenders. Nevertheless, they could not capture the summit due to heavy casualties caused by the German anti-tank guns and the anti-aircraft guns pointing their barrels down the slope. Other Soviet tanks reached the westernmost hill Tornimägi. The defenders in their bunkers, which were poorly fortified from the north and the flanks, were destroyed. Among the Soviet tank commanders, starshina S. F. Smirnov destroyed five German strong points.[4] One of the tanks reached the community centre of the municipality of Vaivara, shooting a hole in the wall. This remained the westernmost point the Soviet Armed Forces reached in Northeast Estonia until late September 1944.[7]

Germans capture the Tornimägi[edit]

By noon on 29 July, the Soviet forces had almost seized control of the Tannenberg Line. During the attack, they had suffered heavy casualties and were unable to secure their positions at the Sinimäed. A mortally wounded German radio operator cleared the eastern slope of the Grenaderimägi by waiting for the Soviet troops to reach his position and then ordering an artillery barrage on himself as the Soviets surrounded him.[17] The Soviet tanks threatened the headquarters of the "De Ruyter" Regiment. The counterattack by the headquarters guards company was repelled and Obersturmbannführer Hans Collani, seeing a Soviet tank from his headquarters doorstep, shot himself dead. His observations turned out to be erroneous as Steiner ordered the last German tanks from the reserve (they were commanded by Paul-Albert Kausch), into the battle.[14] He distributed his tanks in three units. One of them went on to counterattack the Soviets besieging the Tornimägi; the second of them secured the Narva–Tallinn Highway in the west and the third unit counterattacked between the Grenaderimägi and the railway a few kilometres to the south.[7] The arrival of the German tanks came unexpectedly for the Soviet armor. Probably being out of ammunition, the Soviet tank squadron retreated and the counterattack of the "De Ruyter" repulsed the Soviets from the Tornimägi.[18] After the counterattack, only one German Panther tank remained unscathed.[2][7]

Germans capture the Grenaderimägi[edit]

After the German counterattack, the tactical situation at the Tannenberg Line remained unclear. The remains of the II. Battalion, "Norge" at the Grenaderimägi assaulted the Soviets. The latter suffered heavy losses but re-grouped and cut the Norwegians off at the east side of the hill.[4][14] On the western terrace of the Grenaderimägi, Kampfgruppe Bachmeier and the III.Battalion, 3rd Estonian kept resisting. The Soviets started searching the bunkers for documents and prisoners.[4] Steiner ordered an air assault using dive bombers from Tallinn Airport. The Soviets had anticipated the attack and had moved their self-propelled anti-aircraft units to the Lastekodumägi. They shot down several German bombers and afterwards turned their fire on the German infantry.[16]

Steiner had one more battalion to spare – the I.Battalion, 'Waffen Grenadier Regiment der SS 45 "Estland" (1st Estonian) which had been spared from the previous counterattacks because of the scarcity of able-bodied men. Sturmbannführer Paul Maitla requested reinforcements from the men in the field hospital. Twenty less injured men responded, joining the remains of the other destroyed units, including a unit of the Kriegsmarine (navy), and supported by the single remaining Panther tank.[7] The counterattack started from the parish cemetery south of the Tornimägi with the left flank of the assault clearing the hill of the Soviets. The attack continued towards the summit under heavy Soviet artillery and bomber attack, getting into close combat in the Soviet positions. The small German grenadier units were moved into the trenches. Running out of ammunition, the German troops used Soviet grenades and automatic weapons taken from the fallen.[7] According to some veterans, it appeared that low flying Soviet bombers were attempting to hit every individual German soldier jumping between craters, from time to time getting buried under the soil by the explosions of Soviet shells.[19] The Soviets were forced to retreat from the Grenaderimägi Hill.[5][9]

Soviet attempts to regain the Grenaderimägi[edit]

In the afternoon of 29 July, the Soviet forces made eight attempts to regain control of the Grenaderimägi. The last of the German reserves were sent into the battle, including the supply troops. The two assaults by Maitla's improvised platoon at the Lastekodumägi forced the Soviets to refrain from further attacks and gave the Germans time to re-group.[2][20][21]

Report of the 2nd Shock Army headquarters on 30 July[edit]

Reluctant to admit the catastrophe in his report to the Soviet High Command on 30 July, the Political Commissar of the Soviet 2nd Army falsely assured that the Grenaderimägi was still in the possession of the Soviet 109th Rifle Corps. As the justification of the failure to break through the German defenses, the report cited the weak cooperation between the artillery and the infantry. The report also mentioned the poorly coordinated action of the armored units, driving to the minefields, which were uncleared by the sapper units. The commissar made serious reproaches against the commanders of the units and claimed in his report than they were very drunk while attempting to command the attacks.[7][22]

30–31 July[edit]

On 30 July, the battle went on in similar fashion. Soviet artillery increased the intensity of its fire to 30,000 shells,[5] the German artillery answered with 10,000 rounds of their own.[2] The subsequent attack by the Soviet heavy tanks broke through the defenses of the II.Battalion, "De Ruyter" consisting of 35–45 capable men running between their heavy machine guns.[7] Hauptsturmführer Helmut Scholz took units of the De Ruyter Regiment to the counterattack, destroying two tanks at the doorstep of Scholz's bunker and forcing the Soviets to retreat.[17] For the battles of Tannenberg Line, Scholz earned the Knight's Cross with Oakleaves, the only SS infantry company commander to be a recipient of the Oakleaves.[7]
Simultaneously, the Soviet platoons were climbing up the Grenaderimägi under intensive German bombardment. Eventually, the attack was repelled by German hand grenades. The Soviets attacked the II.Battalion, 3rd Estonian which in close combat, destroyed 12 tanks and repelled this latest assault.[7][23] Units of the Soviet 8th Army advanced in the forests of the southern section of the front.[4]
On 31 July, the Soviet command changed the direction of their preparatory artillery fire, this time aiming it behind the hill, cutting the German defenders off from the main army group. The gradual decrease in the number of shells fired by the Soviet artillery (9,000 rounds on 30 July), witnessed the weakening of the Soviet attacks.[2][7] Soviet infantry started climbing up the Grenaderimägi. The Estonian units against them ran out of ammunition.[2][7] Just in time, an improvised platoon of the "Danmark" arrived to rescue them, and another Soviet attack was repulsed. In the evening, the Soviets tried yet another assault on the Grenaderimägi, it was repelled by the unit commanded by Bachmeier who was later decorated with the Knight's Cross.[17] The remnants of the I. Battalion, 3rd Estonian resisted the Soviet attacks on the southern flank.[24]

That time, the political commissar of the 2nd Shock Army admitted the failure to break through the defense. He explained it by stating the artillery fire was running late.[7][25] The report presented the false assertion that the Germans had captured the Grenaderimägi only on 30 July.[5]

Soviet reinforcements in August[edit]

Receiving the order from Stalin to break through to Tallinn at all costs, Govorov made Fedyuninsky responsible for reaching Rakvere no later than 7 August.[9] During the first days of August, the 2nd Shock Army received the 110th and 124th Rifle Corps as reinforcements, raising the number of troops to over 20,000 again.[5] The 8th Army received similar additions to their forces with the 112th and 117th Corps ordered to join the attacks.[5] Soviet tank forces were also restored, with 104 armored vehicles at their command.[5] At the nine kilometre long segment of the front, 1,913 assault guns were collected, making it 300 guns per kilometer. 365 pieces of heavy artillery were aimed at Grenaderimägi and 200 at Sirgala settlement in the south segment. As the daily amount, 200,000 shells were supplied to the artillery.[4] On 1 August, no combat took place, as both parties reorganized their forces.[4] The Leningrad Front tried to shift the center of weight southwards.

German conditions in August[edit]

The army detachment "Narwa" replaced its units with the less damaged detachments in the first days of August. Despite inflicting immense casualties on the Soviets, the Waffen-SS units were slowly getting worn down. The "Nederland" Brigade was reduced to the size of a regiment, while the two regiments of the "Langemarck" Sturmbrigade each had the strength of a reninforced company.[7] The 2nd Estonian Regiment was virtually lost and the "Nordland" Division a shadow of its former self. To the German's good fortune, Soviet intelligence severely overestimated the strength of the defenders to more than 60 tanks and 800 pieces of artillery[4] while in fact there were just one tank and 70–80 guns left at the Tannenberg Line.[2][7]

Finale[edit]

Estonian soldiers prepare to fire a Panzerschreck in August, 1944

By 2 August, the 2nd Shock Army had re-deployed and assaulted, using the same tactics as previously. The men of the "Nederland" who survived the artillery bombardment, retreated down the slopes of the Grenaderimägi pursued by the Soviet units. In Steiner's memoirs, the intensity of the fire and the nature of the battles reminded him of the Battle of Verdun.[26] When the artillery barrage ended, the freshly drafted II.Battalion, Waffen-Grenadier Regiment der SS 46 (2nd Estonian) returned fire after inflicting severe casualties on the assaulting Soviets and counterattacked, reclaiming the Grenaderimägi.[27] Soviet tanks broke through in the southeastern section of the front as the Estonian assault team commanded by Hauptsturmführer Oskar Ruut, the 11th Infantry Division (consisting of personnel from East Prussia) and the 300th Special Purpose Division repelled them while suffering heavy casualties.[5][7][17]

On 3 August, the Soviets made a stronger attempt with the preparatory artillery fire of 25,000–30,000 shells reaching the level of the attack of 29 July. The fire caused heavy casualties, while a part of the defenders left their positions. Eleven Soviet rifle divisions and four tank regiments tried to spread their attack along the front. However, the main weight of the impending attack tended to be at the Grenaderimägi once more. The German artillery noticed the concentration of the Soviet forces, and launched their rocket fire, inflicting numerous casualties on the Soviet infantry and tanks before the beginning of the attack. As the German artillery fire did not dent the Soviet superiority in manpower, the Soviet attack began as scheduled. The 110th Rifle Corps assaulting the Grenaderimägi found themselves in the middle of the cross-fire from the remnants of the I.Battalion, 2nd Estonian Regiment.[7] As the commanders of the rifle corps erroneously reported to army headquarters on the capture of Grenaderimägi, the artillery fire was lifted from the hill. The Estonians counterattacked and cleared it.[7][27] Simultaneously, the 124th Rifle Corps attacking the south segment of the front by the Vaivara parish church was repulsed.
In a similar fashion, the Soviets made two more attacks on 3 August. Each of them began with a massive artillery barrage and ended with a German counterattack, restoring the previous positions.[7][28] Overall on 3 August, twenty Soviet tanks were destroyed. The Soviet attacks from 4 to 6 August were weaker; on 4 August, eleven tanks were destroyed, and seven more on 5 August. During the night before 6 August, six tanks were knocked out.[5] On 10 August, the war council of the Leningrad Front ordered the termination of the offensive and switch strictly to defense.[4] The Soviets reduced their operations to patrol activities with occasional attacks. The defenders used this respite to rotate several exhausted units out of the line for a few days for rest and refit, and to strengthen their positions. Until mid-September, the front stayed quiet.[5]

Casualties[edit]

In the era of the Soviet Union, losses in the Battle of Tannenberg Line were not mentioned in Soviet sources.[29] In recent years, Russian authors have published some figures[30][31] but not for the whole course of the battle.[7] The number of Soviet casualties can only be estimated by looking at other figures. In the attack of 29 July, 225 men survived of the Soviet 109th Rifle Corps carrying the main weight of the assault. Of the 120th Rifle Division, 1,808 men were lost; killed or wounded.[4] The rest of the Soviet rifle corps lost their capacity for further attacks.[16] In the same attack, the German forces lost 600 men.[2][32] The headquarters of the 2nd Shock Army reported 259 troops fit for combat within the 109th Rifle Division and a total exhaustion of the army on the night before 1 August,[25] which probably meant a few thousand troops fit for combat out of the 46,385 men who had initiated the Estonian Operation on 25 July. The losses of the 8th Army were similar to that.[32]

In the evening of 29 July, the army detachment "Narwa" counted 113–120 Soviet tanks destroyed, almost half of them in the battles of 29 July.[2][33] The 2nd Shock Army reported on fifty of their tanks destroyed on 29 July.[25][33] The German side counted an additional 44 Soviet tanks destroyed on 3–6 August.[34]

Russian author G.F. Krivosheev, in his account "Soviet casualties and combat losses in the twentieth century", lists 665,827 casualties suffered by the Leningrad Front in 1944, 145,102 of them as dead, missing in action, or captured.[29] Estonian historian Mart Laar, deducting the losses in the Leningrad-Novgorod Offensive, Battle for the Narva Bridgehead and the combat in Finland estimates the number of Soviet casualties in the Battle of Tannenberg Line as 35,000 dead or missing and 135,000 wounded or sick.[7]

The German Army Group North buried 1,709 men in Estonia between 24 July and 10 August 1944.[8][35] Added to the men missing in action, the number of irrecoverable casualties in the period is approximately 2,500. Accounting the standard ratio 1:4 of irrecoverable casualties to the wounded, the total number of German casualties in the Battle for Tannenberg Line is approximately 10,000 men.[8]

Aftermath[edit]

On 14 September, the Riga Offensive was launched by the Soviet 1st, 2nd and 3rd Baltic Fronts. It was aimed at capturing Riga and cutting off Army Group North in Courland, western Latvia. After much argument, Adolf Hitler finally agreed to allow the evacuation of all the troops in Estonia. After months of holding the line, the exhausted men of the III SS Panzer Corps joined the withdrawal; fighting their way back from the Tannenberg Line. On 17 September, the 3rd Baltic Front launched the Tallinn Offensive from the Emajõgi River Front joining Lake Peipus with Lake Võrtsjärv. The operation was aimed at encircling the army detachment "Narwa". Unable to hold the force, the German units withdrew towards the northwest while the incomplete II Army Corps was left to stall the Soviet attack. The "Narwa" withdrew quickly towards the Latvian border. On 22 September, Tallinn was abandoned. Some of the Estonian formations now began to attack the retreating Germans, attempting to secure supplies and weapons to continue a guerrilla war as the Forest Brothers against the Soviet occupation.[5] Several troops of the Estonian Division stayed in Estonia. These units continued fighting, some survivors joining the guerrilla groups which fought the Soviet occupying forces until the end of the 1970s.[36]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Steven H. Newton (1995). Retreat from Leningrad: Army Group North, 1944/1945. Atglen, Philadelphia: Schiffer Books. ISBN 0-88740-806-0. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q Unpublished data from the official battle diary of the Army Detachment "Narwa"
  3. ^ a b c Mart Laar (2006). Sinimäed 1944: II maailmasõja lahingud Kirde-Eestis (Sinimäed 1944: Battles of World War II in Northeast Estonia) (in Estonian). Tallinn: Varrak. p. 261. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p F.I.Paulman (1980). "Nachalo osvoboždenija Sovetskoj Estonij". Ot Narvy do Syrve (From Narva to Sõrve) (in Russian). Tallinn: Eesti Raamat. pp. 7–119. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w Toomas Hiio (2006). "Combat in Estonia in 1944". In Toomas Hiio, Meelis Maripuu, & Indrek Paavle. Estonia 1940–1945: Reports of the Estonian International Commission for the Investigation of Crimes Against Humanity. Tallinn. pp. 1035–1094. 
  6. ^ G.F.Krivosheev (1997). Soviet casualties and combat losses in the twentieth century. London: Greenhill Books. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq ar Mart Laar (2006). Sinimäed 1944: II maailmasõja lahingud Kirde-Eestis (Sinimäed 1944: Battles of World War II in Northeast Estonia) (in Estonian). Tallinn: Varrak. 
  8. ^ a b c d Mart Laar (2006). Sinimäed 1944: II maailmasõja lahingud Kirde-Eestis (Sinimäed 1944: Battles of World War II in Northeast Estonia) (in Estonian). Tallinn: Varrak. p. 326. 
  9. ^ a b c d Laar, Mart (2005). Estonia in World War II. Tallinn: Grenader. 
  10. ^ a b R. Landwehr (1983). Lions of Flanders. Silver Spring: Bibliophile Legion Books. p. 143. ISBN 0-918184-04-5. 
  11. ^ R. Landwehr, T.H.Nielsen (1981). Nordic Warriors. Bibliophile Legion Books, Silver Spring. p. 105. 
  12. ^ a b c Wilhelm Tieke (2001). Tragedy of the faithful: a history of the III. (germanisches) SS-Panzer-Korps. Winnipeg: J.J.Fedorowicz. pp. 98–99. 
  13. ^ R. Landwehr (1981). Narva 1944: The Waffen SS and the Battle for Europe. Silver Spring, Maryland: Bibliophile Legion Books. p. 84. 
  14. ^ a b c d e f g R. Landwehr (1981). Narva 1944: The Waffen SS and the Battle for Europe. Silver Spring, Maryland: Bibliophile Legion Books. 
  15. ^ a b A.Brandt. The Last Knight of Flanders, pp.126-142
  16. ^ a b c Евгений Кривошеев; Николай Костин (1984). "II. Boi zapadnee Narvy (Battles west from Narva". Битва за Нарву (The Battle for Narva) (in Russian). Tallinn: Eesti raamat. pp. 105–140. ISBN 3-905944-01-4. 
  17. ^ a b c d e f Wilhelm Tieke (2001). Tragedy of the faithful: a history of the III. (germanisches) SS-Panzer-Korps. Winnipeg: J.J.Fedorowicz. 
  18. ^ Marc Rikmenspoel (1999). Soldiers of the Waffen SS. J.J.Fedorowicz, Winnipeg
  19. ^ A.Aasmaa (1999). Tagasivaateid.(Looking Back. In Estonian) In: Mart Tamberg (Comp.). Eesti mehed sõjatules. EVTÜ, Saku
  20. ^ A.Aasmaa (1999). Tagasivaateid.(Looking Back. In Estonian) In: Mart Tamberg (Comp.). Eesti mehed sõjatules, p.329. EVTÜ, Saku
  21. ^ Mart Laar (2006). Sinimäed 1944: II maailmasõja lahingud Kirde-Eestis (Sinimäed 1944: Battles of World War II in Northeast Estonia) (in Estonian). Tallinn: Varrak. p. 294. 
  22. ^ Political report No. 023363 of the Head of the Political Department of the 2nd Shock Army on 30 July 1944. Estonian State Archive, Fund 32, Catalogue 12, File 7, pp.98–101
  23. ^ J.Uudevald (2000). Vallutasime Grenaderimäe (We conquered Grenaderimägi Hill. In Estonian). Võitluse Teedel Nr. 3
  24. ^ E.Saumets (1952). "Sinimäed – kangelaste surmamäed (Sinimäed Hills – Hills of Death for Heroes" (in Estonian) 3. Kodukolle. 
  25. ^ a b c Unpublished reports of the Estonian Operation of the 2nd Shock Army, July–September 1944. Estonian State Archive, Fund 32
  26. ^ Werner Haupt (1997). Army group North: the Wehrmacht in Russia, 1941-1945. Atglen, Philadelphia: Schiffer Books. p. 244. ISBN 0-7643-0182-9. 
  27. ^ a b Karl Sulger (2002). Sõjakäik pealuu märgi all (Campaign Under the Sign of Bones and Skull (in Estonian) (1). Võitluse Teedel. 
  28. ^ Robert Helde (2004). Palavad päevad Sinimägedes (Hot Days at Sinimäed Hills. In Estonian). Võitluse Teedel Nr.1
  29. ^ a b Mart Laar (2006). Sinimäed 1944: II maailmasõja lahingud Kirde-Eestis (Sinimäed 1944: Battles of World War II in Northeast Estonia) (in Estonian). Tallinn: Varrak. p. 325. 
  30. ^ В.Бешанов (2004). Десять сталинских ударов. Харвест, Minsk. p. 607. 
  31. ^ V. Rodin (5 October 2005). Na vysotah Sinimyae: kak eto bylo na samom dele. (On the Heights of Sinimäed: How It Actually Was) (in Russian)). Vesti. 
  32. ^ a b Mart Laar (2006). Sinimäed 1944: II maailmasõja lahingud Kirde-Eestis (Sinimäed 1944: Battles of World War II in Northeast Estonia) (in Estonian). Tallinn: Varrak. p. 303. 
  33. ^ a b Mart Laar (2006). Sinimäed 1944: II maailmasõja lahingud Kirde-Eestis (Sinimäed 1944: Battles of World War II in Northeast Estonia) (in Estonian). Tallinn: Varrak. p. 296. 
  34. ^ Mart Laar (2006). Sinimäed 1944: II maailmasõja lahingud Kirde-Eestis (Sinimäed 1944: Battles of World War II in Northeast Estonia) (in Estonian). Tallinn: Varrak. pp. 304–327. 
  35. ^ Unpublished data by the German War Graves Commission
  36. ^ Mart Laar (1992). War in the Woods: Estonia's Struggle for Survival, 1944-1956. Washington: The Compass Press. ISBN 0-929590-08-2. 

Recommended reading[edit]

  • Carius, Otto. Tigers in the Mud. ISBN 0-921991-14-2. 
  • Michaelis, Rolf. Die 11. SS-Freiwilligen-Panzer-Grenadier-Division "Nordland". 
  • Steiner. Waffen-SS im Einsatz. 
  • Tieke, Wilhelm. Tragedy of the Faithful: A History of III. (Germanisches) SS-Panzer-Korps. 

External links[edit]