Soviet partisans in Estonia
The Soviet partisans in Estonia were Communist partisans who attempted to wage guerrilla warfare against the German armed forces during the German occupation of Estonia. Partisan activity was singularly unsuccessful in Estonia due to the general resistance of the population to the Soviet regime that the partisans represented. The majority of partisans sent in by the Soviets were quickly picked up by the local Estonian militias.
The war between Germany and the Soviet Union broke out after one year of Soviet occupation in Estonia. From July to December 1941, Estonia was cleared of Soviet armed forces by Germans who were assisted by Estonian national partisans. The Germans refrained from looting and excessive murders as practiced by the Red Army in Estonia.
Soviet partisans often robbed wealthier peasants and provoked German reprisals. The Baltic lands remained free of partisans throughout most of the war, by 1944 only 234 partisans were fighting in Estonia and none were native volunteers, all being either NKVD or Red Army personnel. The partisans found it impossible to establish permanent bases in Estonia, one reporting "it is dangerous to visit a village where even one Estonian lives". In effect, those groups were rather small in Estonia, often consisting of Soviet paratroopers brought from the USSR proper, and never even reaching the degree of pro-Soviet guerilla warfare in Lithuania (which, in turn, was minor compared with Soviet resistance activities in neighbouring Belarus).
Background and origins
On July 5, 1941 Estonia was invaded from the South by the Army Group North. The invasion lasted one day more than five months, ending with the occupation of Osmussaar on December 6, 1941. Besides the Soviet destruction battalions being ill-equipped compared the Wehrmacht, they attempted to defend the borders but only managed to thinly spread the limited resources available. Also, many Estonian soldiers within the Soviet units refused to fight, welcoming the Germans as liberators from Soviet reign of terror. As has been ascertained, units of destruction battalions burned farms and terrorized the civilian population (for example Kautla massacre).
Amid the German occupation that ensued, the Eesti Partisaniliikumise Staap (Staff of Estonian Partisan Movement) moved to organize and unite pro-Soviet factions and forces into the resistance. The guerrilla operations in Estonia had some basis in Joseph Stalin's authorisation of a full withdrawal from Estonia in mid-August 1941 — he allowed any soldiers of his Estonian forces, the 22nd Estonian Territorial Rifle Corps (22. Eesti Territoriaalne Laskurkorpus; future 8th Estonian Rifle Corps), who wished to 'stay and defend their homes' to do so — some Estonian soldiers, and a few Jews and Russians, evaded capture and continued fighting as partisans in the countryside for years during the war. Most however, like Nikolai Karotamm and Paul Stamm evacuated to the Soviet Union and notably participated in Soviet intelligence operations in aid of the partisans.
Rudolf Lumi, in his 1963 book Rahvatasujad, pubslished in Soviet Estonia, claimed that the resistance was not orchestrated only by the Communist Party of Estonia and Soviet officials and argued that the partisans counted among their ranks anti-Stalinists and former Forest Brothers.
The partisan warfare
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By 1942 the partisans were provided with supplies, liaison officers and logistical coordination by the Soviet NKGB. However it diminished significantly after the capture of Karl Säre who forwarded information to the SiPo and SD, enabling to eliminate many Soviet partisan units in Estonia and cut others off from any further contact with Soviet intelligence operatives. Soviet partisans were more active in Virumaa and border areas between Pärnumaa and Petserimaa, which had terrain more suitable for guerilla warfare.
Notes and references
- Howell, Edgar M. (1997). The Soviet Partisan Movement, 1941-1944. Merriam Press. p. 200. ISBN 978-1-57638-014-7.
- Statiev, Alexander (2010). The Soviet Counterinsurgency in the Western Borderlands. Cambridge University Press. p. 75. ISBN 978-0-521-76833-7.
- Rudolf Lumi (1962). Rahvatasujad (1. osa). Tallinn, Estonia: Eesti Riiklik Kirjastus. OL 24377325M.