20th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (1st Estonian)

Infobox Military Unit
unit_name= 20th Waffen-SS Grenadier Division

caption= Divisional insignia of 20th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (1st Estonian)
dates= February 1944 - 8 May 1945
country=Nazi Germany
allegiance=Nazi Germany
branch=Waffen SS
role=Defending territory of Estonia
battles= Battle of Narva (1944) Battle of Tannenberg Line Vistula-Oder Offensive
notable_commanders= Franz Augsberger Alfons Rebane

20th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (1st Estonian) (German:"20.Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS (estnische Nr.1)"), was formed in Spring 1944 [ [http://www.axishistory.com/index.php?id=1931 20. Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS (estnische Nr. 1) ] at axishistory] after general conscription-mobilization was announced in Estonia on 31 January 1944 by the German occupying authorities. 38 000 men were conscripted and other Estonian units that had fought on various fronts on the German side were rushed to Estonia. [ [http://www.estonica.org/eng/lugu.html?menyy_id=99&kateg=43&alam=61&leht=4German mobilisation in Estonia] estonica.org ] Estonian officers and men in other units that fell under the conscription proclamation and had returned to Estonia had their rank prefix changed from "SS" to "Waffen" (Hauptscharführer would be referred to as a Waffen-Hauptscharführer rather than SS-Hauptscharführer). The wearing of SS runes on the collar was forbidden, and these formations began wearing a national insignia instead. [http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Holocaust/waffenss.html Waffen-SS] at jewishvirtuallibrary.org] At the Nuremberg Trials, the Waffen-SS was condemned as a criminal organisation, excepting conscripts, who were exempted from the judgement due to being forcibly mobilised. The Estonian 20.Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS (estnische Nr.1) is an example of such a conscript formation.


of August 1939.

On September 24, 1939, Warships of the Red Navy appeared off Estonian ports, Soviet bombers began a threatening patrol over Tallinn and the nearby countryside. [http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,762664,00.html Moscow's Week] at Time Magazine on Monday, Oct. 09, 1939] Moscow demanded that Estonia allow the USSR to establish military bases and station 25,000 troops on Estonian soil for the duration of the European war. [ The Baltic States: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania by David J. Smith, Page 24, ISBN 0415285801 ]

On June 12, 1940 the order for a total military blockade on Estonia to the Soviet Baltic Fleet was given. [fi icon [http://www.mil.fi/laitokset/tiedotteet/1282.dsp Pavel Petrov ] at Finnish Defence Forces home page] [ru icon [http://www.rusin.fi/publications/warinpetsamo/indexEN.html documents published] from the State Archive of the Russian Navy]

On June 16 1940, the Soviet Union invaded Estonia. [http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,764071-2,00.html Five Years of Dates] at Time magazine on Monday, Jun. 24, 1940 ] The Red Army exited from their military bases in Estonia, some 90,000 additional Soviet troops entered the country. The military occupation of the Republic of Estonia was complete by the June 21 1940 and rendered "official" by a communist coup d'état supported by the Soviet troops. [Estonia: Identity and Independence by Jean-Jacques Subrenat, David Cousins, Alexander Harding, Richard C. Waterhouse ISBN 9042008903]

14-15 July parliamentary elections (show election) were held where all but pro-Communist candidates were outlawed. Those who failed to have their passports stamped for so voting were allowed to be shot in the back of the head. [http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,764407,00.html Justice in The Baltic] at Time magazine on Monday, Aug. 19, 1940 ] Tribunals were set up to punish "traitors to the people." those who had fallen short of the "political duty" of voting Estonia into the USSR. Estonia was formally annexed into the Soviet Union on August 6 and renamed the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic. [Magnus Ilmjärv "Hääletu alistumine", ("Silent Submission"), Tallinn, Argo, 2004, ISBN 9949-415-04-7]

After Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, as the German 'troops' approached Tartu on July 10, they realized that the Estonian partisans were already fighting the Soviet troops. The Wehrmacht stopped its advance and hung back, leaving the Estonians to do the fighting. After the Soviets were driven out from Estonia, German troops disarmed all the partisan groups. [Resistance! Occupied Europe and Its Defiance of Hitler by Dave Lande on Page 188, ISBN 0760307458] The initial enthusiasm that accompanied the liberation from Soviet occupation quickly waned as Estonia became a part of the German-occupied "Ostland "

By January 1944, the front was pushed back by the Red Army almost all the way to the former Estonian border. On January 31. 1944 general conscription-mobilization was announced in Estonia by the German authorities. [ [http://www.estonica.org/eng/lugu.html?menyy_id=99&kateg=43&alam=61&leht=4German mobilisation in Estonia] at estonica.org ] On February 7Jüri Uluots, the last constitutional prime minister of the republic of Estonia [ [http://www.president.ee/en/estonia/heads.php?gid=81975 Jüri Uluots ] at president.ee ] supported the mobilization call during a radio address. 38.000 men were conscripted, the formation of the 20th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (1st Estonian) had began.

Formation of the Division

The 20th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (1st Estonian) was formed in Spring 1944 from various Estonian units and new conscripts that were mobilized after the general conscription call up.

[fi [http://www.suomenpojat.fi/kronologia.html chronology at] suomenpojat.fi] [ [http://www.historycommission.ee/temp/pdf/tables/957.pdf THE 20TH DIVISION] at IHC]

20th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (1st Estonian) - Battles at Narva

In January 1944, the formation of the 20. Estnische SS-Freiwilligen-Division began. The majority of the troops were drawn from the 3. Estnische SS-Freiwilligen Brigade, but elements from Ost Battalions Nr. 658, also known as "Pups of Rebane (="Fox")" and Nr. 659, the 287.Polizei-Füsilier-Bataillon and the returned Estonian volunteers of the Finnish army unit Infantry Regiment 200 were also absorbed into the division.

On 8 February 1944, the division was attached to SS-Gruppenführer Felix Steiner's III SS (Germanic) Panzer Corps, then defending the heavily pressured Narva bridgehead. The division was to replace the remnants of the 9th and 10th Luftwaffe-Feld-Divisions, which were struggling to hold the line against a Soviet bridgehead near Siivertsi. Upon arriving at the front on 20 February, the Estonians were immediately ordered to eliminate the threatening Siivertsi Soviet bridgehead. In nine days of heavy fighting, the division pushed the Soviets back across the river and restored the line. The division remained stationed in the Ssivertsi sector, being engaged in heavy combat. In May, the division was pulled back and reformed as the 20. Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS (Estnische Nr. 1), and the recently returned "Narwa" battalion was absorbed into the division as the reconnaissance Abteilung (battalion). By that time active conscription of Estonian men into the German armed forces was well under way, in violation of the international law of war. By spring 1944, approximately 32,000 men were drafted into the German forces, with the 20. Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS (Estnische Nr. 1) consisting of some 15,000 men.

When Steiner ordered a withdrawal to the Tannenbergstellung on 25 July, the division was deployed on the Kinderheim-Hights, the first line of defence for the new position. Over the next month, the division was engaged in heavy defensive battles on the Kinderheim- and Grenadier-Hights. In mid-August, the division's 45th "Estland" and 46th regiments were formed into Kampfgruppe Vent and sent south to help defend the Emajõgi river line, seeing heavy fighting.

When Hitler authorised a full withdrawal from Estonia in mid September, all men who wished to stay to defend their homes were released from service. Many chose this offer, fighting the Soviets alongside other Estonians and then withdrawing into the forests to become the Forest Brothers. Severely weakened by this, the division was withdrawn to Neuhammer to be refitted.

Vistula-Oder Offensive - Final battles

Eventually, the reformed division numbered roughly 11,000 Estonians and 2,500 Germans. It was returned to the line in late February, just in time for the Soviet Vistula-Oder Offensive. This offensive forced the German forces back behind the Oder and Neisse rivers. The division was pushed back to the Neisse, taking heavy casualties. The division was then trapped with the XI. Armeekorps in the Oberglogau - Falkenberg - Friedberg area. On 17 March, the division launched a major escape attempt, but despite making headway, the attempt failed. On 19 March, the division tried again, this time succeeding but leaving all heavy weapons and equipment behind in the pocket.

In April 1945, the shattered remnants of the division were moved south to the area around Goldberg. After the final Soviet offensive, the division attempted to break out in the west, in order to surrender to the western Allies. After marching over the Reichenberg and Annaberg mountains, the division was encircled by Russian forces and capitulated on May 8. Some of the Estonians who had reached the western allies were handed back to the Soviets. The survivors could, at best, expect a lengthy stay in the Gulags.

In contrast, some veterans of the Estonian Legion served as guards under American leadership at the Nuremberg Nazi war crimes trials.

Modern controversy

The Nuremberg Trials, in declaring the Waffen SS a criminal organisation, explicitly excluded conscripts in the following terms: :Tribunal declares to be criminal within the meaning of the Charter the group composed of those persons who had been officially accepted as members of the SS as enumerated in the preceding paragraph who became or remained members of the organisation with knowledge that it was being used for the commission of acts declared criminal by Article 6 of the Charter or who were personally implicated as members of the organisation in the commission of such crimes, "excluding, however, those who were drafted into membership by the State in such a way as to give them no choice in the matter, and who had committed no such crimes." [Nuremberg Trial Proceedings, [http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/imt/proc/09-30-46.htm Volume 22, September 1946] ] .

In April 13, 1950, a message from the U.S. High Commission in Germany (HICOG), signed by John McCloy to the Secretary of State, clarified the US position on the "Baltic Legions:" they were not to be seen as "movements," "volunteer," or "SS." In short, they had not been given the training, indoctrination, and induction normally given to SS members. Subsequently the US Displaced Persons Commission in September 1950 declared that::"The Baltic Waffen SS Units (Baltic Legions) are to be considered as separate and distinct in purpose, ideology, activities, and qualifications for membership from the German SS, and therefore the Commission holds them not to be a movement hostile to the Government of the United States."

In 2002, the Estonian government forced the removal of a monument to the division erected near the Estonian city of Pärnu. The inscription "To Estonian men who fought in 1940-1945 against Bolshevism and for the restoration of Estonian independence." was the cause of the controversy. In 2004 the monument was reopened in Lihula but shortly after removed again because of the Estonian government opposed the opening. On October 15, 2005 the monument was finally opened in grounds of private museum located in Lagedi near Estonian capital Tallinn (See Monument of Lihula.)

On May 22, 2004, the "Jerusalem Post" ran a story about the plans of some Estonian individuals to build a monument to the 20.Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS. International outrage followed, due to the criminal status of the non-conscript Waffen-SS, after the Nuremberg Trials. One of Russia's chief Rabbis, Berl Lazar, condemned the action, stating it would breed anti-Semitism Fact|date=June 2007.

On July 28, 2007, gathering of some 300 veterans of 20th Waffen-Grenadier-Division and of other units of Wehrmacht, including a few Waffen SS veterans from Austria and Norway, took place in Sinimäe, where the battle between German and Soviet armies had been particularly fierce in summer of 1944. [ [http://www.kommersant.com/p790926/r_531/Waffen_SS_Forest_Brothers/ Official Estonia, Latvia Call Up Waffen SS Vets] ] .


* SS-Brigadeführer Franz Augsberger (January 1944 - 19 March 1945)
* SS-Brigadeführer Berthold Maack (20 March 1945 - 8 May 1945)

Orders of Battle

* Waffen-Grenadier Regiment der SS 45 "Estland" (Estnische Nr. 1) SS-Obersturmbannführer Harald Riipalu
** 1st Battalion – SS-Hauptsturmführer Paul Maitla
** 2nd Battalion – SS-Hauptsturmführer Ludvig Kiisk
** 3rd Battalion was still in the process of forming
* Waffen-Grenadier Regiment der SS 46 (estnische nr. 2) SS-Standartenführer Juhan Tuuling
** 1st Battalion – SS-Hauptsturmführer Heino Rannik
** 2nd Battalion – SS-Sturmbannführer Friedrich Kurg
** 3rd Battalion – SS-Obersturmführer Arseni Korp. The battalion was based on the 660th Ost Battalion.
* Waffen-Grenadier Regiment der SS 47(Estnische Nr. 3) SS-Obersturmbannführer Paul Vent
** 1st Battalion – SS-Sturmbannführer Georg Sooden. The battalion was based on the 659th Ost Battalion.
** 2nd Battalion – SS-Hauptsturmführer Alfons Rebane. The battalion was based on the 659th Ost Battalion.
** 3rd Battalion – SS-Hauptsturmführer Eduard Hints. Formed from mobilized men and was at this moment just arriving to the front.
* Waffen-Artillerie Regiment der SS 20 - SS-Obersturmbannführer Aleksandr Sobolev.
* SS-Waffen Füsilier Battalion 20 - SS-Hauptsturmführer Wallner. He was wounded on 25 July and replaced by SS-Obersturmbannführer Oskar Ruut. The latter was killed on 3 August. After that SS-Hauptsturmführer Hando Ruus took over. The battalion was based on the “Narva” battalion (Division “Wiking”), but was reinforced with conscripts.
* SS-Waffen Pionier Battalion 20
* SS-Feldersatz Battalion 20
* SS-Waffen Nachrichten Abteilung 20
* SS-Ausbildungs- und Ersatz Regiment 20


* Jurs, August - Estonian freedomfighters in World War Two
* Tieke, Wilhelm - Tragedy of the Faithful: A History of III. (Germanisches) SS-Panzer-Korps
* Landwehr, Richard - Estonian Vikings
* Wendel, Marcus (2005). " [http://www.axishistory.com/index.php?id=1931 20. Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS (estnische Nr.1)] ". Retrieved June 2, 2005.
* " [http://www.lexikon-der-wehrmacht.de/Gliederungen/GrenadierdivisionenSS/20SSGD.htm 20. Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS (estnische Nr.1)] ". German language article at www.lexikon-der-wehrmacht.de. Retrieved June 2, 2005.
* [http://www.historycommission.ee/temp/conclusions.htm Conclusions of the Estonian International Commission for the Investigation of Crimes Against Humanity] - " [http://web-static.vm.ee/static/failid/051/1941-1944_ik.pdf Phase II: The German occupation of Estonia in 1941–1944] "

ee also

* Grenadier, Waffen-SS
* Division (military), Military unit
* Wehrmacht, List of German military units of World War II
* Alfons Rebane

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