Harald Riipalu

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Harald Riipalu
Harald Riipalu, awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross in 1944 for actions during the Battle of Auvere
Born (1912-02-13)13 February 1912
St. Petersburg, Russia
Died 4 April 1961(1961-04-04) (aged 49)
Heckmondwike, UK
Allegiance Estonia, Soviet Union, Nazi Germany
Service/branch Maavagi crest.svg Estonian Army (1935–1940)
Red Army flag Red Army (1940–1941)
Balkenkreuz.svg Wehrmacht (1941–1944)
Flag of the Schutzstaffel.svg Waffen-SS (1944–1945)
Years of service 1935–45
Rank Obersturmbannführer
Unit 1935, Narva Territorial Regiment
1940, Tartu Territorial Regiment
1941, Red Army 22nd Territorial Corps
1942, Wehrmacht 36th Defence Battalion
1944, 20th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (1st Estonian)

World War II Eastern Front

Awards Iron Cross 2nd & 1st class
Infantry Assault Badge
Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross

Harald Riipalu (born as Harald Reibach) (13 February 1912 in St. Petersburg, Russia – 4 April 1961 in Heckmondwike, United Kingdom) was an Estonian military commander and one of four such commanders who earned the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross while serving with the German army during World War II.

Early life[edit]

Harald Riipalu was born in Saint Petersburg where his family was lessee in a manor. When World War I began, their family moved to Estonia, Saare parish near Kääpa river. He had four sisters, one of whom died at the age of four. In 1920, after the Estonian War of Independence, he attended a small local parish school. In 1926 he went to study in Hugo Treffner Gymnasium in Tartu. He graduated in 1932, being among the best students in the school.

From 1932 to 1933, Riipalu studied at the Faculty of Law of University of Tartu. On 22 December 1935 he married Olvi Hain, with whom he would have a daughter the following year.

Military career[edit]

In 1933 Riipalu started his military career, attending the Military Academy of Estonia, from which he graduated in 1935. He served in Narva, and was then assigned in January 1940 to the Defence League Tartu Territorial Regiment, as a junior instructor.

After the Soviet occupation of Estonia in 1940, Riipalu was forcibly mobilized into the Soviet Army 22nd Territorial Corps, serving until 1941, at which time he defected to the German side to fight against the Soviet Union. He was initially held as a prisoner of war by the Germans until March 1942.

From 1942 to 1943 Riipalu was a Zugführer (platoon leader) and company commander of the 36th Defence Battalion, and became commander of the battalion in November 1942. From 1943 to 1945, he served in the 3rd SS-Brigade and the 20th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS. He was the Commander of the 45th SS-Grenadier Regiment from April 1944. On 23 August 1944 he was decorated with the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross for his actions in the Battle of Tannenberg Line and in the Battle of Auvere where Riipalu and his regiment drove back the assault of the Soviet Army, which prevented the encirclement of Army Group Narva. The award was presented to him by Felix Steiner, the commander of III SS Panzer Corps.

Post war[edit]

After Germany had lost the war, many former Estonian soldiers who had served in the 20th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS, including Riipalu, were hunted by the Soviet Union, but Riipalu managed to evade captivity. From 1945 to 1948 he lived in Denmark, and later lived in Great Britain. He suffered a heart failure and died in 1961, at the age of 49.



  1. ^ According to Scherzer as commander of Waffen-Grenadier-Regiment der SS 45 (estnische Nr. 1).[2]



  1. ^ Fellgiebel 2000, p. 359.
  2. ^ Scherzer 2007, p. 630.


  • Fellgiebel, Walther-Peer (2000) [1986]. Die Träger des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939–1945 — Die Inhaber der höchsten Auszeichnung des Zweiten Weltkrieges aller Wehrmachtteile [The Bearers of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross 1939–1945 — The Owners of the Highest Award of the Second World War of all Wehrmacht Branches] (in German). Friedberg, Germany: Podzun-Pallas. ISBN 978-3-7909-0284-6. 
  • Scherzer, Veit (2007). Die Ritterkreuzträger 1939–1945 Die Inhaber des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939 von Heer, Luftwaffe, Kriegsmarine, Waffen-SS, Volkssturm sowie mit Deutschland verbündeter Streitkräfte nach den Unterlagen des Bundesarchives [The Knight's Cross Bearers 1939–1945 The Holders of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross 1939 by Army, Air Force, Navy, Waffen-SS, Volkssturm and Allied Forces with Germany According to the Documents of the Federal Archives] (in German). Jena, Germany: Scherzers Miltaer-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-938845-17-2. 
  • Pinn, Voldemar (1999). Auvere sangar : Rüütliristi kandja kolonelleitnant Harald Riipalu [Hero of Auvere: the Knight's Cross holder Lieutenant Colonel Harald Riipalu] (in Estonian). Tallinn, Estonia. 
  • Võsaste, Rauno (2011). Harald Riipalu lugu [The Harald Riipalu Story] (in Estonian). Tallinn, Estonia: Grenader. ISBN 9789949448517.