Sample Sunday: The Red Army takes Estonia from the Nazis



Today in the history of the Second World War on the Eastern Front

1944: The Red Army breaks through near Narva, Estonia. — World War II Database 

A description of the following events from Walking Out of War.

From Walking Out of War: Book 3 in the Eastern Front trilogy

Battle of Narva, 1944 Image source: Wikiwand http://www.wikiwand.com/en/Battle_of_Narva_(1944)

When the train passed a station with a sign that read Narva, Maurice realized they had reached Estonia, which the Germans called Ostland. Its history was complex. Home to a sizable German elite minority for centuries, Estonia had been independent after the fall of the Russian Empire during the Great War. In 1939, the Molotov-von Ribbentrop Pact ceded the Baltic states to the Soviet “sphere of influence,” and Germany evacuated tens of thousands of ethnic Germans from Estonia and Latvia before the Soviets took over. The Soviets deported thousands of Estonians to Siberia and killed thousands more.

When Germany invaded in 1941, many Estonians saw it as a liberator from Stalin, as many had in Ukraine. And as in Ukraine, the hopes for independence were soon proven to be lies. Germany set up Reichskommissariat Ostland, a huge buffer zone between “greater Germany” and the occupied areas of the USSR. Nazi Germany confiscated all the state property that the Soviets had confiscated a year earlier and imprisoned or killed the Estonian political, intellectual and commercial leaders that had not escaped. The German Reich minister for the occupied eastern territories began “germanizing” Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The Nazis set up concentration camps and murdered tens of thousands of Estonians, including over 4,000 Jews. By the end of 1944, the Reichskommissar could declare Ostland “Jew-free.” The Nazis exploited Estonia’s resources for their war effort and used Estonians as slave labour.

Which means the country is filled with partisans fighting both the USSR and Germany. Just like Ukraine.

As evening fell, the train stopped at an improvised army base, a muddy field in the midst of forests. The crops that had once grown there had been burned by war and churned by vehicles and marching feet. A few trees still held leaves, colourful in the fall, but most had been blackened and broken. Skeletal ruins of a town and farm buildings were grey against the red sunset.

Red Army soldiers in Riga, Latvia, 1944. Image source: Wikimedia Commons.

“The Estonian-Latvian border is ten kilometres west of here,” said the earnest Lieutenant Vasilyev. “The Germans hold the border town of Valga. We’re going to take it in the morning.”

Maurice looked at Mykhailo. He was shaking. Old Stepan looked glum, as usual, and Young Olesh was pale even in the red sunset.

Maurice took a deep breath and let it out slowly. I’ve been in action. I’ve been in far worse situations, when we were running from the Germans. I survived. I will survive tomorrow, too.

They camped, groups of three making little tents of their chenilles, or greatcoats: one on the ground, two draped over their rifles, propped up as poles. They would sleep alongside one another in shifts: every few hours, they would change around, so each of the three had a few hours in between the other two, and thus the warmest place in the tent.

The sergeants woke them quietly before dawn. They packed their gear, pulling on their greatcoats against the chill. Maurice tightened his helmet strap and checked his rifle magazine was full. The sergeant led them to their starting position. Groups of two odalenye, or twenty-four in total, would accompany a tank. “Let the tank do the hard work,” said Nikolaev. “Your job is to protect it from enemy infantry. The tank will be your protection, but remember that it’s also the target for Fritz’s artillery. In the town, watch the windows and don’t trust the civilians. A lot of partisans favour the Nazis and will kill any socialist comrade they can.”

Or maybe they just want to be free from both Germany and Russia, Maurice thought. “Keep low, boys, and keep your eyes focused ahead for Fritz in hiding places,” he told his comrades.

The Lieutenant stepped in front of them. “This is our first experience in carrying out deep operations. The shock army will hit as soon as there’s light. Keep your head down as the planes strike. The tanks will move fast, striking deep. We’re the second echelon,” he said, and Maurice thought he sounded disappointed. “When they’ve broken through, we follow into the breach and occupy the town, destroy any remaining resistance and take over their bases, ammunition, vehicles. Our regiment’s specific objective is the railroad station. When we get there, we’ll set up the Maxim as a defensive weapon. If the enemy counterattacks, follow your training. Fire in short bursts. Don’t waste ammunition.”

A colonel stepped up behind Lieutenant Vasileyev, his battle uniform perfect. “We’re going to liberate Valga today,” he said, catching each man’s eye in turn. “That means we are freeing Latvia from the Nazi tyrant, restoring the rule of the people of the Soviet Socialist Republic of Latvia, and tomorrow, Lithuania as well. Other than partisans, this town is part of the Soviet Union. Stavka will not tolerate looting or abuse of the civilian population. Is that understood?” He did not wait for a reply, but walked away to repeat his message to the next group.

Sergeant Nikolaev summed it up. “Hands off the women and especially the girls.”

The sky lightened behind them, and then a line of planes buzzed past overhead. Maurice had faced the blitzkrieg in 1941. He knew what it was to be overwhelmed by a fast, unstoppable foe.

But nothing could have prepared him for the Red Army’s assault on the German invaders in 1944. The line of planes hitting the enemy stretched in both directions as far as he could see, and explosions lit up the western horizon with a hellish light. They felt the earth vibrating, felt the heat on their faces.

Katyusha rockets. Image source: World War II today.

As the sun’s first rays lit up the field, Maurice saw the artillery raise their barrels and begin firing: mortars and cannons, long-range artillery pieces and something new: the Guards Mortars, the innovative rocket launchers that became known as the Katyusha. They looked like the pipes of a church organ mounted on cantilevered assembly on the back of one of the now-ubiquitous Studebaker trucks. Maurice watched a crew load fourteen metre-long rockets onto the rails. The rails rose, pointing at an upward angle toward the enemy. Then with an unbearably loud but almost musical sound, they fired. Rows of multiple rocket launchers sent a volley of thousands of shells toward the Germans. Nothing could survive that, Maurice thought.

Then the shock armies raced westward. First came tanks and armoured cars, all carrying men with a grim but confident air. Looking at them, Maurice knew they had no illusions that some of them were going to die, but they were going to destroy the enemy.

Soviet infantry advance alongside T-34 tanks in the summer of 1944. Image source: World War II Today.

Hundreds of vehicles poured past Maurice’s position. The Germans returned fire, but that did not slow the shock troops. As the day brightened, the men could see the German positions in the town of Valga, about two kilometres to the west. Smoke billowed up from dozens of spots. Buildings crumbled as shells from Soviet tanks and cannon struck.

Successive lines of Soviet tanks, trucks, guns and men moved across the fields toward the first buildings of the town. Men fell, trucks burst into smoke and fire but the shock troops kept moving forward.

Walking Out of War: The Eastern Front, book 3

Ukraine, 1944: After the Soviets burned the Ukrainian city of Ternopyl to the ground to crush the stubborn Nazi occupiers, they rounded up every remaining Ukrainian man around for the Red Army’s final push on Germany. Maurice Bury, Canadian citizen, Ukrainian resistance fighter and intelligence officer, is thrust once again into the death struggle between Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s USSR.

Fighting across the Baltics in the autumn of 1944 is tough and bloody. Then the Red Army enters Germany, where they’re no longer liberators—they’re the long-feared Communist horde, bent on destruction, rape and revenge. The Communists are determined to wipe Nazism from the face of the earth. And the soldiers want revenge for Germany’s brutal invasion and occupation.

Get it on Amazon.

About the Author