Alfons Rebane in the Estonian Army
24 June 1908|
Valga, Livland Governorate, Russian Empire
|Died||8 March 1976
Augsburg, Bavaria, West Germany
|Service/branch|| Estonian Army (1929-1940)
|Years of service||1929-1940
|Unit||1929, 1st Armored Train Regiment
1935, Viljandi County Territorial Regiment
1939, Lääne County Territorial Regiment
1940, Commandant of Lihula
1941, 184th Security Battalion, Wehrmacht
1943, 658th (Estonian) Ost Battalion, Wehrmacht
1944, 20th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (1st Estonian)
Latvian Aizsargi Cross of Merit
Iron Cross 2nd & 1st class
Infantry Assault Badge
Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross
Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oakleaves
Close Combat Clasp
Eastern Front Medal
Alfons Vilhelm Robert Rebane, known simply as Alfons Rebane (June 24, 1908 – March 8, 1976) was an Estonian military commander. He was the most highly decorated Estonian military officer in the course of the Second World War, serving in various German military units against the armed forces of the Soviet Union.
After World War II Rebane joined the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) where he played a key role in assisting the armed resistance to Soviet rule in Estonia and other Baltic countries. He led the Estonian portion of MI6's Operation Jungle well into the 1950s.
The 1999 reburial of Rebane in Estonia with state honors triggered a number of controversies.
Rebane was born in Valga in southern Estonia, then part of the Governorate of Livonia of the Russian Empire. In 1920 Rebane, son of a railway official, attended the Russian secondary school in Narva. From 1926 to 1929 he attended Tartu University and graduated from the Estonian War College with first class honours. He served as an infantry officer on the armoured train "Captain Irv" of the 1st Armored Train Regiment as a second lieutenant in 1929. Married in 1931 to Agnia Soomets, they had one daughter Tiiu who died soon afterwards. On Estonian Independence Day on February 24, 1933, Rebane was commissioned as first lieutenant. From 1935 to 1939 he served as junior instructor in the Defence League Viljandi County Territorial Regiment, between 1939-1940 in the Lääne County Territorial Regiment. From January to June 1940 Rebane was the Commandant of Lihula.
World War II
Rebane served as an officer in the Estonian Army until the Soviet troops occupied the country in 1940. The Soviets disbanded and absorbed most of the Estonian Armed Forces and arrested and executed the entire Estonian high command. Many junior officers, such as Rebane, were dismissed due to their lack of "political reliability" and were liable to be deported. For a while, Rebane worked in construction, then fled into the forests when the Soviets began mass deportations in 1941. He established and led an anti-Soviet Forest Brothers unit in Virumaa (Northern Estonia) in May 1941.
After Germany had taken control of Estonia, he joined the German Wehrmacht and went on to fight against the Soviets in Northwestern Russia, subsequently becoming the captain of the 184th Security Battalion, then Major of the Estonian 658th Eastern Battalion. In February 1944 Major Rebane's unit was transferred to the Narva Front and attached to the Wehrmacht's 26th Army Corps on March 2. On April 27, 1944, the unit was released from the Wehrmacht and Rebane was reluctantly drafted into the newly formed 20th (Estonian) Division of the Waffen-SS, eventually becoming colonel of the 47th Waffen-Grenadier Regiment. The Estonian division played a significant role in the Battle of Narva and the Battle of Emajõgi, holding back the Soviet re-occupation of Estonia until the Soviet Tallinn Offensive, September 1944 while suffering heavy casualties. Rebane's unit was then evacuated to Germany for refitting and saw more action on the Eastern Front in the spring of 1945. Despite being encircled several times, Rebane was amongst a small group of Estonian soldiers who in the final days of the war evaded capture by the Soviets and managed to reach the western Allies to surrender. Soldiers who fought in units under his command were colloquially referred to as "fox cubs" (Rebane translates to "fox" in Estonian). Rebane was nicknamed "Estonian Rommel" for his leadership and tactical skills.
According to Carlos Caballero Jurado, Nigel Thomas, and Darko Pavlović: Alfons Rebane was "the most decorated and probably the most talented and charismatic Baltic soldier during WWII". Rebane became one of the most decorated Estonians. During his days in the Estonian Army, he was awarded the Defence League White Cross 3rd Class and the Latvian Aizsargi Cross of Merit. In the German army he was awarded the Iron Cross first and second class, the War Merit Cross with swords second class, the Eastern Front Medal, the silver Infantry Assault Badge and the silver Ostvolk Medal for bravery. Rebane was also decorated with the silver Close Combat Clasp, awarded for hand-to-hand fighting by unsupported infantry for a total of 30 days. In February 1944 he was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross and in April 1945 he was promoted to Waffen-Standartenführer and awarded the Knight's Cross with Oakleaves for extreme bravery in the battlefield. Rebane did not receive the award or confirmation of the promotion until 1975. At the end of the war there were some rumours that Rebane had been awarded the Oak Leaves but no official notification reached Rebane at the time. The archives were moved to Great Britain and returned to Germany in 1975. At that time Rebane asked if the rumours held any truth and he was then formally notified that he had been in fact given the award and promoted by the then-Reichspräsident Karl Dönitz at the war's end.
In 1947 Rebane moved to England and joined the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) as the Estonian expert at the Intelligence School in London. There he played a key role in assisting the armed resistance to Soviet rule in Estonia and other Baltic countries. He led the Estonian portion of MI6's Operation Jungle well into the 1950s.
In 1977, Patrice Chairoff and Beate Klarsfeld alleged Rebane was a war criminal. Investigations conducted by the KGB after World War II found no evidence confirming the accusations against Colonel Alfons Rebane and his army unit, while in the West during the Nuremberg trials and during his subsequent work for the MI6 and his life in West Germany no charges against Rebane were ever made.
The return and reburial of Rebane's ashes with military honours at a national cemetery during 1999 in Estonia sparked some controversy. The American Jewish Congress protested that the reburial served as an "indication that fascist ideology is recognized in Estonia". A tombstone to Rebane, unofficially erected in 2004 but unveiled before Pärnumaa District Parliamentarian and former Foreign Minister Trivimi Velliste, was protested by Russia's Chief Rabbi, Berl Lazar and the Russian Jewish Congress.
The citations of the Judgement of the Nuremberg Tribunal by the Russian Federation's Permanent Mission to the United Nations in according criminal responsibility (and thus charges of historical revisionism in Estonia) has been criticized as inaccurate by the EU Presidency. The Nuremberg Tribunal in declaring the Waffen SS a criminal organization explicitly exempted conscripts who had committed no crimes from that judgement, which included the Baltic Waffen-SS divisions. It is mention of this exemption from the Nuremberg judgement that is omitted by the Russia Federation. The United States officials have declared the Baltic Waffen SS units not to be hostile to the Government of the United States and the units were "considered as separate and distinct in purpose, ideology, activities and qualification from the regular SS  According to Andrew Mollo, a British authority on the SS: "the Estonian SS were very different from other SS units: Estonia had been occupied by the Red Army in 1940, the Estonians fought for the independence of their country and were brought under the SS umbrella against their will."
The Estonian authorities assert that the Estonian Waffen SS units engaged solely in combat operations at the front to defend Estonia's independence and had nothing to do with punitive operations in the territories occupied by the Nazi Germany. According to the President of Estonia Toomas Hendrik Ilves "We are witnesses to the information war against Estonia which already reminds of an ideological aggression". According to the editor of Virumaa Teataja newspaper Rein Sikk: "Alfons Rebane was a good soldier according to our historians. He was never convicted of war crimes and [the allegations] are just a political game to try to show that Estonia has lots of fascists."
- Iron Cross (1939)
- Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves
- Alfons Rebane received the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross on 23 February 1944 as Major and commander of the estnisches Freiwilligen-Bataillon 658 in the 28. Jäger-Division, at the time a Wehrmacht division and not part of the Waffen-SS. His nomination of the Oak Leaves was submitted to the Heeres Personalamt (Army Staff Office) on 12 April 1945. The German Federal Archives only hold a copy of the nomination. There is no indication or remark that the nomination was processed. The nomination list for the higher grade of the Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves dates the nomination on 2 April 1945. This list also gives no indication that the nomination had been processed. The Order Commission of the Association of Knight's Cross Recipients (AKCR) processed this case in 1974 and decided: 875th Oak Leaves on 8 May 1945. The sequential number "875" was assigned by the AKCR, the date was later changed by Fellgiebel to 9 May 1945. Rebane was member of the AKCR.
- Jurado, Carlos Caballero; Nigel Thomas; Darko Pavlović (2002). Germany's Eastern Front allies (2): Baltic forces. Osprey Publishing. p. 8. ISBN 1-84176-193-1.
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