20th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (1st Estonian) (German: 20. Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS (estnische Nr. 1)), Estonian: 20. eesti diviis) was a unit of the Waffen SS established on 25 May 1944 in German-occupied Estonia during World War II. Formed in Spring 1944 after the general conscription-mobilization was announced in Estonia on 31 January 1944 by the German occupying authorities, the cadre of the 3rd Estonian SS Volunteer Brigade, renamed the 20th Estonian SS Volunteer Division on 23 January 1944, was returned to Estonia and reformed. Additionally 38,000 men were conscripted in Estonia and other Estonian units that had fought on various fronts in the German Army, and the Finnish Infantry Regiment 200 were rushed to Estonia. The unit fought the Red Army on the Eastern Front and surrendered in May 1945.
|20th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (1st Estonian)|
|Active||24 January 1944 – 9 May 1945|
|Part of||III SS Panzer Corps|
|Colors||Blue, Black & White|
|Engagements||Battle of Narva|
Battle of Tannenberg Line
Upper Silesian Offensive
Flag of the division
On 16 June 1940, the Soviet Union had invaded Estonia. The military occupation was complete by 21 June 1940 and rendered "official" by a communist coup d'état supported by Soviet troops and the Nazi government under the 23 August 1939 agreement signed in Moscow between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union as a Treaty of Non-Aggression. A secret protocol of the pact defined domains of influence, with the Soviet Union gaining eastern Poland, Finland, Latvia, Estonia and the Romanian province of Bessarabia. Germany was to control western Poland and Lithuania.
After Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941, the Germans were perceived by most Estonians as liberators from the USSR and its repression, and hopes were raised for the restoration of the country's independence. The initial enthusiasm that accompanied the liberation from Soviet occupation quickly waned as Estonia became a part of the German-occupied "Reichskommissariat Ostland".
By January 1944, the front was pushed back by the Red Army almost all the way to the former Estonian border. On 31 January 1944 general conscription-mobilization was announced in Estonia by the German authorities. On 7 February Jüri Uluots, the last constitutional prime minister of the republic of Estonia, supported the mobilization call during a radio address in the hope of restoring the Estonian Army and the country's independence.[nb 1] 38,000 men were conscripted, the formation of the 20th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (1st Estonian) had begun.
The 20th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS was formed in January 1944 via general conscription, from a cadre drawn on the 3. Estnische SS Freiwilligen Brigade, and further troops from the Ost Battalions and the 287th Police Fusilier Battalion and the returned Estonian volunteers of the Finnish army unit 200. 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). Since the wearing of SS runes on the collar was forbidden by Augsberger on 21 April 1943, these formations wore national insignia instead.
The arrival of the I.Battalion, 1st Estonian Regiment at Tartu coincided with the prepared landing operation by the left flank of the Leningrad Front to the west coast of Lake Peipus, 120 kilometres south of Narva. The I.Battalion, 1st Estonian Regiment was placed at the Yershovo Bridgehead on the east coast of Lake Peipus. Estonian and German units cleared the west coast of Peipsi of Soviets by 16 February. Soviet casualties were in thousands.
On 8 February 1944, the division was attached to Gruppenführer Felix Steiner's III SS (Germanic) Panzer Corps, then defending the Narva bridgehead. The division was to replace the remnants of the 9th and 10th Luftwaffe Field Divisions, which were struggling to hold the line against a Soviet bridgehead north of the town of Narva. Upon arriving at the front on 20 February, the division was ordered to eliminate the 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 Siivertsi and Auvere sectors, being engaged in heavy combat.
In May, they were pulled out of the front line and reformed with the recently returned Narwa battalion into the division as the reconnaissance battalion. By that time, active conscription of Estonian men into the German armed forces was well under way. By Spring 1944, approximately 32,000 men were drafted into the German forces, with the 20th Waffen Grenadier Division consisting of some 15,000 men.
When Steiner ordered a withdrawal to the Tannenberg Line on 25 July, the division was deployed on the Lastekodumägi Hill, the first line of defence for the new position. Over the next month, the division was engaged in a heavy defensive battle in the Sinimäed hills.
On 26 July, pursuing the withdrawing defenders, the Soviet attack fell onto the Tannenberg Line. The Soviet Air Force and artillery bombarded the German positions, destroying most of the forest on the hills. On the morning of 27 July, the Soviet forces launched another powerful artillery barrage on the Sinimäed.
The heaviest Soviet attack took place on 29 July. By noon, the Red Army had almost seized control of the Tannenberg Line. The last reserve on the front, I.Battalion, 1st Estonian Regiment had been spared from the previous counterattacks. The scarcity of able-bodied men forced Sturmbannführer Paul Maitla to request reinforcements from patients in the field hospital. Twenty injured men responded, joining the remmnants of other units including a part of the Kriegsmarine and supported by the single remaining Panther tank. The counterattack started from the parish cemetery south of the Tornimägi with the left flank of the assault clearing the hill of Soviet soldiers. The attack continued towards the summit under heavy Soviet artillery and bomber attack, culminating in close combat on the Soviet positions. The Estonian troops moved into the trenches. Running out of ammunition, they used Soviet grenades and automatic weapons taken from the fallen. According to some veterans, it appeared that low-flying Soviet bombers were attempting to hit every individual Estonian soldier moving between craters, some of them getting buried under soil from the explosions of Soviet shells. The Soviets were forced to retreat from the Grenaderimägi Hill.
At the end of August, the III.Battalion, 1st Estonian Regiment was formed from the 1st Battalion of the Finnish Infantry Regiment 200 recently returned to Estonia. As their largest operation, supported by Estonian Police Battalions No. 37, 38 and Mauritz Freiherr von Strachwitz's tank squadron, they destroyed the bridgehead of two Soviet divisions and recaptured Kärevere Bridge by 30 August. The operation shifted the entire front back to the southern bank of the Emajõgi and encouraged the II Army Corps to launch an operation attempting to recapture Tartu. The attack of 4–6 September reached the northern outskirts of the city but was repulsed by units of the Soviet 86th, 128th, 291st and 321st Rifle Divisions. Relative calm settled on the front for the subsequent thirteen days.
When Adolf Hitler authorised the 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 Estonian units and then withdrawing into the forests to become the Forest Brothers (insurgents). Severely weakened by this, the division was withdrawn to Neuhammer to be refitted.
On 19 September 1944 the liquidation of the Klooga concentration camp, proximate to the division's training camp started. Approximately 2,500 prisoners from the Vaivara camp complex had been brought there in the course of the evacuation. The training and replacement units of the division based at Klooga under the command of Sturmbannführer Georg Ahlemann provided guards for the perimeters.
Eventually, the reformed division, which numbered roughly 11,000 Estonians and 2,500 Germans, returned to the front 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/Niemodlin area in Silesia. On 17 March 1945, the division launched a major escape attempt, which despite making headway, failed. On 19 March, the division tried again, this time succeeding, but leaving all heavy weapons and equipment behind in the pocket.
In April, the remnants of the division were moved south to the area around Goldberg. After the Prague Offensive, the division attempted to break out to the west, in order to surrender to the western Allies. The Czech partisans resumed their hostilities on the surrendered Estonian troops regardless of their intentions. In what veterans of the Estonian Division who had laid their weapons down in May 1945 recall as the Czech Hell, the partisans chased, tortured and humiliated the Waffen SS men and murdered more than 500 Estonian POWs. Some of the Estonians who had reached the western allies were handed back to the Soviets.
In the spring of 1946, out of the ranks of those who had surrendered to the Western allies in the previous year, a total of nine companies were formed. One of these units, the 4221st Guard Company, formed from some 300 men on 26 December 1946, guarded the external perimeter of the Nuremberg International Tribunal courthouse and the various depots and residences of US officers and prosecutors connected with the trial. The men also guarded the accused Nazi war criminals held in prison during the trial, up until the day of execution.
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 organization 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 organization 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.
On 13 April 1950, a message from the Allied High Commission (HICOG), signed by John J. 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."
Most living veterans of the division belong to the 20th Estonian Waffen Grenadier Division Veterans Union (Estonian: 20. Eesti Relvagrenaderide Diviisi Veteranide Ühendus). It was founded in 2000 and gatherings of veterans of the division are organised by the union on the anniversaries of the battle of the Tannenberg Line in the Sinimäed Hills. Since 2008, the chairman of the union, Heino Kerde, is a former member of the 45th Regiment.
In 2002, the Estonian government forced the removal of a monument to Estonian soldiers erected in 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. The monument was rededicated in Lihula in 2004 but was soon removed because the Estonian government opposed the opening. On 15 October 2005 the monument was finally moved to the grounds of the Museum of Fight for Estonia's Freedom in Lagedi near the Estonian capital, Tallinn.
On 28 July 2007, a gathering of some 300 veterans of the 20th Waffen-Grenadier-Division and of other units of the Wehrmacht, including a few Waffen SS veterans from Austria and Norway, took place in Sinimäe, where the battle between the German and Soviet armies had been particularly fierce. A gathering takes place every year that has seen veterans attending from Estonia, Norway, Denmark, Austria and Germany.
...das mit Hilfe von Angehörigen der 20. Waffen-SS Division unter dem Befehl des Kommandeurs der Ausbildungs- und Ersatzeinheiten, Georg Ahlemann, abgeriegelt wurde. (...with the help of members of the 20th Waffen-SS Division [and] under the orders of the commander of the training and replacement units, Georg Ahlemann, was sealed off.)
The 11th SS Volunteer Panzergrenadier Division Nordland (German: 11. SS-Freiwilligen Panzergrenadier-Division "Nordland") was a Waffen-SS division recruited from foreign volunteers and conscripts. It saw action, as part of Army Group North, in the Independent State of Croatia and on the Eastern Front during World War II.20th Division
In military terms, 20th Division or 20th Infantry Division may mean:
20th Division (German Empire)
20th Infantry Division (Wehrmacht)
20th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (1st Estonian)
20th Infantry Division (Greece)
20th Infantry Division (India)
20th Infantry Division Friuli (Kingdom of Italy)
20th Division (Imperial Japanese Army)
20th Infantry Division (Philippine Commonwealth Army)
20th Infantry Division (Poland)
20th (Light) Division (United Kingdom)Cavalry divisions
20th Cavalry Division (Philippine Commonwealth Army)Armoured divisions
20th Panzer Division (Germany)
20th Armored Division (Greece)
20th Armored Division (Philippine Commonwealth Army)
20th Armored Division (United States)Aviation divisions
20th Air Division (United States)33rd Waffen Cavalry Division of the SS (3rd Hungarian)
33rd Waffen Cavalry Division of the SS (3rd Hungarian) was formed from Hungarian volunteers, in December 1944.
It never had more than one regiment when it was absorbed by the 26th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (2nd Hungarian) the following month, after it was almost destroyed in the fighting near Budapest.There is also some doubt that there ever was a 33rd Waffen Cavalry Division of the SS (3rd Hungarian) in anything but name.The number 33 was re-issued and given to the Charlemagne Division.38th SS Division Nibelungen
The 38th SS Division "Nibelungen" (German: 38. SS-Panzergrenadier-Division "Nibelungen")was a Waffen-SS formation of Nazi Germany during World War II. It was formed in March 1945 from the staff and trainees of the SS-Junkerschule (SS training camp) at Bad Tölz, and named after the Nibelung family of German legend.658th Eastern Battalion
The 658th Eastern Battalion (German: Ost Bataillon 658) was an Estonian collaborationist unit of the German Wehrmacht during World War II. It was formed on 23 October 1942 from Estnische Sicherungs-Abteilung 181 for security duties in the rear of the 18th Army. In June 1944 it was dissolved and its personnel used to form the 47th Waffen-Grenadier Regiment 2nd Battalion of the 20th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (1st Estonian).The unit was commanded by Standartenführer Alfons Rebane, former Estonian Army officer.Baltic Legions
Baltic Legions refers to the three Baltic Waffen SS divisions:
20th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (1st Estonian)
15th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (1st Latvian)
19th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (2nd Latvian)Czech Hell
Czech Hell (Estonian: Tšehhi põrgu) was an episode of vigilante justice during the Prague Offensive and the Prague Uprising, World War II in May 1945. It involved the imprisonment and summary execution of unarmed soldiers and officers of the 20th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (1st Estonian).Estonian Legion
The Estonian Legion (Estonian: Eesti Leegion, German: Estnische Legion) was a military unit within the Combat Support Forces of the Waffen SS Verfügungstruppe during World War II, mainly consisting of Estonian soldiers.Franz Augsberger
Franz Xaver Josef Maria Augsberger (10 October 1905 – 19 March 1945) was a high-ranking German SS commander during World War II. He was killed in action in March 1945.
Born in Austria in 1905, Franz Augsberger joined the Sturmabteilung (SA) and the Nazi Party (NSDAP) in 1930. He was in charge of the NSDAP's propaganda until June 1933, when the NSDAP was declared illegal in Austria. Augsberger moved to Germany and joined the SS in 1932. In 1934 Augsberger joined the SS-Verfügungstruppe (SS Dispositional Troops; SS-VT). He attended and then taught at an SS training school until March 1939, when he was transferred to the SS regiment Der Fuhrer.
Augsberger was appointed the commander of a regiment in the 6th SS Mountain Division Nord. In May 1942 he was awarded the German Cross in Gold. In October 1942 Augsberger was appointed the commander of 3 Estonian SS Volunteer Brigade. In 1944 the brigade was enlarged to form the 20th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (1st Estonian), with Augsberger remaining the unit's commander. Augsberger commanded the division during the long retreat of the German forces on the Eastern Front. In early March he was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross by Field Marshal Ferdinand Schörner. On 19 March, he was killed in action near Neustadt, Oberschlesien.Harald Nugiseks
Harald Nugiseks (22 October 1921 – 2 January 2014) was an SS-Oberscharführer (Sergeant) in World War II, who served in the 20th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (1st Estonian) of the Waffen-SS. Nugiseks is also one of the four Estonian soldiers who received the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross.III (Germanic) SS Panzer Corps
The III (Germanic) SS Panzer Corps (III. (germanisches) SS-Panzerkorps) was a German Waffen-SS armoured corps which saw action on the Eastern Front during World War II. The (germanische) (lit. Germanic) part of its designation was granted as it was composed primarily of foreign volunteer formations.Johannes Soodla
Johannes Soodla (14 January 1897 in Kudina Parish, (now in Palamuse Parish) – 16 May 1965) was an Estonian military officer during World War I, Estonian War of Independence and World War II, serving in Kuperjanov's Partisan Battalion and the 20th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (1st Estonian). In 1944 he was promoted to Brigadeführer, which was the highest rank ascribed to any Estonian officer in the German army during World War II.
In 1916 Soodla was mobilized in the Russian Army and was sent to a military school in Gatchina. He fought in World War I. In the Estonian War of Independence Soodla fought along with Julius Kuperjanov in the same unit. Soodla was a company commander. He fought in all the toughest battles in the war including the Battle of Paju where he took command of the battalion after Kuperjanov was wounded. After the war, the Estonian Cross of Liberty was awarded to Soodla. From 1920 to 1940 he served in the Estonian Army until released by Soviet Army in 1941.
Soodla then went to Germany returning to Estonia in the summer of same year with German Army. Soodla headed both the Estonian police and Omakaitse, a paramilitary self-defence organization during the German occupation. He was promoted to Oberfuhrer and then Brigadefuhrer. In 1943 he joined the Estonian Legion and was Inspector-General of the Estonian units in German forces. In 1944 he fell back with German forces to Germany.
He was known to have been in post-war refugee camps in Germany. He later lived in Italy and in United States. He died on May 16, 1965 in Goslar, Germany.
The Estonian International Commission for the Investigation of Crimes Against Humanity concluded that by the virtue of his senior position, Johannes Soodla shared responsibility
with the German authorities for all criminal actions carried out in
Estonia, and beyond its borders by military units or
police battalions raised with their consent.List of Waffen-SS division commanders
This is a list of Waffen-SS division commanders.List of Waffen-SS units
This is an incomplete list of Waffen-SS units.Paul Maitla
Paul Maitla (born Paul Mathiesen; March 27, 1913 – May 10, 1945) was an Estonian commander in the German Waffen-SS during World War II. He is one of the four Estonians who received the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross of Nazi Germany. He received his award for leading the recapture of the central hill of the Sinimäed during the Battle of Tannenberg Line, effectively breaking the Soviet offensive in that sector.SS Panzer Brigade Gross
SS Panzer Brigade Gross was a unit of the Waffen-SS of Nazi Germany during World War II, under the command of Obersturmbannführer Martin Gross. The brigade was formed from the SS Panzer Training and Replacement Regiment based in Dundaga, Latvia and the SS Panzer Troop Training Regiment Seelager based at the training grounds at Ventspils together with the SS Reconnaissance Training Battalion in August 1944. The brigade consisted of two infantry battalions, a panzer battalion of two companies with Panzer III and Panzer IV, a reconnaissance battalion, a StuG battalion, a pioneer company and a Flak company.The brigade participated in the fighting in Courland and Riga in August and September before it was transferred west to training grounds in Sennelager and Steinhagen in November where it was broken up for replacements. It was not formally disbanded until April 1945.XIII SS Army Corps
XIII SS Army Corps was formed August 1944 at Breslau. It was moved to France and the Western Front. By the end of April 1945, some XIII Corps operated in Czechoslovakia where they encountered the 97th Infantry Division. Others fought north of the Danube River near Regen.X SS Corps
The X SS Corps (German: Generalkommando X. SS-Armeekorps or Gruppe Krappe) was a short-lived SS corps-level headquarters employed on the Eastern Front in 1945 during World War II.Ülo Altermann
Ülo Altermann; (Russian: Юло Альтерманн) was an Estonian soldier in the German army during World War II. He served in the 20th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (1st Estonian). After the war he became a resistance fighter against the Russian occupation.