On the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Tallinn from the Nazi invaders, the Russian Ministry of Defense published a number of previously classified documents from the funds of the Central Archive of the Ministry. The liberation of the city and most of the Estonian SSR was made possible thanks to the successful implementation of the Tallinn operation - part of a larger Baltic operation.
"An important springboard for the Nazis"
Tallinn played an important role during the Great Patriotic War. The Nazis launched an attack on the city on August 1, 1941. Four days later, units of the 18th Wehrmacht army were already on the outskirts of Tallinn. Two days later, the Nazis reached the coast of the Gulf of Finland east of the capital of the Estonian SSR. Soviet troops in Estonia were dissected - the 10th Rifle Corps moved to Tallinn, and the 11th retreated to Narva. The defense of Tallinn lasted almost a month. The evacuation of the approximately 20,000th garrison of the besieged city and the ships of the Baltic Fleet began only on August 28.
“The defense of Tallinn held down the large forces of the Nazi invaders, who were distracted from the attack on Leningrad,” explained Academician of the Academy of Military Sciences, reserve colonel Andrei Koshkin in an interview with RT.
According to the military historian Yuri Knutov, already in 1941 the Estonian people were split. In July-August, over 20 thousand Estonians volunteered to join the Red Army, fighter battalions, and Soviet police. The total number of Estonians who participated in the fight against Nazism during the war reached 47 thousand people.
“However, part of the Estonians went into the woods and joined the Nazi invaders to act against the Red Army,” the expert emphasized.
With the advent of the Nazis, their accomplices were legalized as members of the Omakaitse militarized organization. Over 40 thousand local residents joined it. Of the Estonian collaborators, the Nazis formed three eastern battalions, an eastern company and 26 auxiliary police battalions. Later they served as the basis for the creation of the 20th SS Waffen Grenadier Division.
In September 1941, Martin Zandberger, commander of the Einsatz 1A Standartenfuhrer SS issued a decree imposing obligations on Omakaitse to exterminate Jews in Estonia. Most of the Estonian Jews (over 2 thousand people) lived in Tallinn. They were charged with fictitious crimes and killed in the Battery Prison and the Harku concentration camp in less than a month and a half. Subsequently, the Nazis brought several thousand Jews from Eastern Europe to Estonia. They were killed in the Klooga concentration camp near Tallinn and the Kalevi-Liiva tract. In addition, the Nazis massively destroyed the Soviet prisoners of war and local residents who appeared on the territory of Estonia, who refused to maintain the new order.
“Estonia was an important bridgehead for the Nazis. Thanks to her, they got convenient access to the sea, agricultural resources and synthetic oil extracted from shale tar, ”said Koshkin.
Soviet troops entered Estonia in early 1944 during the Leningrad-Novgorod offensive operation. However, at first they could not advance far.
“The Nazis created a powerful fortified area in Estonia, realizing that the republic is the gateway to the Baltic states, and the Baltic States itself is the direct route to Germany,” said an employee of the Victory Museum, film director Andrei Kuparev in an interview with RT.
On September 17, Soviet troops launched an offensive as part of the Tallinn operation. The Leningrad Front, under the command of Leonid Govorov with the support of the Baltic Fleet, led by Admiral Vladimir Tributs, took part in the hostilities. They were opposed by Army Group North, Hitlerite Germany, led by Ferdinand Schörner, and Estonian Legion, a volunteer SS unit recruited from among the locals.
The 8th and 2nd shock armies took the most active part in the battles. They met on the evening of September 20.
“The 8th Army, continuing to pursue the enemy in a westerly direction and destroying its rearguard units, within a day advanced from 15 to 20 km, capturing over 60 settlements, including the city and the Tapa railway junction ... The rest of the army marching and pulled up the rear, ”- said in the operational report of September 21, published by the Russian Defense Ministry.
In total, during the battles of the 8th Army, about 400 Hitlerites were then destroyed, more than 300 soldiers and officers were captured, as well as captured weapons and equipment. At the end of the day, the eighth army and the second shock united and launched an attack directly on Tallinn.
“The troops of the 2nd shock army north and north-east of the city of Tartu and the forces of the 8th army west of the city of Narva, with the assistance of aviation, broke through the enemy’s highly fortified defenses and, successfully developing the offensive for several days, reached the approaches to Tallinn in the morning of September 22 ", - says on a specialized website of the Ministry of Defense.
The report of September 22, at 9:40, states: “The troops of the Leningrad Front, having defeated the enemy on the approaches, completely took control of the city of Tallinn - the capital of the Estonian SSR, the important economic and political center of the Estonian SSR, the strongest stronghold of the Germans on the Baltic Sea and the important military and trading port. "
- © Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation
The document released by the Russian defense department also lists officers who distinguished themselves during the operation, including the commanders of the 8th Army, Lieutenant General Nikolai Starikov and the 2nd Shock Army, Lieutenant General Ivan Fedyuninsky.
The Germans retreated, however, they displayed "stubborn fire resistance" and launched counterattacks. The total loss of Nazi forces amounted to about 1.2 thousand wounded and killed, more than 600 soldiers and officers were captured. Soviet aviation continued to strike at the retreating columns - the total number of sorties was 110. The German Air Force was represented by three aircraft, which were limited to reconnaissance.
At around 2 p.m. Tallinn was completely liberated. In honor of this event, a salvo of 324 guns was fired on the same day in Moscow.
- © Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation
“Today, September 22, at 23:30, the capital of our Motherland, Moscow, on behalf of the Motherland, salutes the valiant troops of the Leningrad Front, including the Estonian corps of Lieutenant General Pern, who captured Tallinn, the capital of Soviet Estonia, with twenty-four volleys of three hundred twenty-four weapons ", - says the order of the Supreme Commander-in-Chief and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin.
“The success of the Red Army was achieved thanks to well-organized interaction of all military branches, the creation of strong mobile groups, and the widespread use of maneuver,” Kuparev emphasized.
“Thanks a thousand times”
The documents published by the Ministry of Defense emphasize that the residents of Estonia and, in particular, Tallinn, overwhelmingly welcomed the Soviet soldiers.
“The population of the capital welcomed our fighters and officers very cordially. A resident of Tallinn approached the self-propelled gun of Lieutenant Savchenko, gently stroked the car with his hand and said: “Dear Soviet car, dear Soviet soldiers! You saved us from the German yoke. Thank you, thank you a thousand times! ”Says one of the reports.
There were also cases when citizens, risking their lives, helped Soviet soldiers.
According to Yuri Knutov, with the advent of “Soviet troops, Estonians had a choice - to build a new life together with the liberators or to go into the woods to serve Nazi criminals.”
“The vast majority have chosen the first option for themselves,” the historian emphasized.
"An important symbolic moment"
During the offensive, Soviet soldiers and officers also displayed personal heroism. So, Major Vasily Gorban, the commander of the 2nd tank battalion of the 15th tank Leningrad brigade, was among the first to break into Tallinn and destroy more than 150 soldiers and officers with cannon fire, flooded two barges with troops and scattered about two companies of machine gunners, said declassified documents. He was awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union.
The same honorary title was awarded to senior lieutenant Yakov Lobov, commander of the 2nd tank company of the 27th separate tank regiment. He destroyed five guns, six mortars, two platoons of soldiers and officers of Germany.
“In battle, when the company commander was killed, Comrade Lobov, being the commander of a tank platoon, took command of the company on the battlefield and the company performed all tasks without loss,” the officer’s published award sheet says.
And the junior lieutenant, the navigator of the 3rd air squadron link of the 51st mine and torpedo regiment of the 8th mine and torpedo air division of the Baltic Air Force, Ivan Rachkov, being in the same crew as Lieutenant Borisov, flooded two Germans transports with a torpedo strike and was awarded the Order of the Order . In the future, Rachkov also demonstrated courage and heroism, for which he received the title of Hero of the USSR.
- © Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation
The Tallinn operation itself continued after the capture of the Estonian capital. During it, the territory of mainland Estonia was liberated. Despite the rapid advance of the Red Army (up to 40 km per day), German forces did not get encircled and were able to withdraw to the territory of Latvia.
The total losses of the USSR amounted to less than 6.5 thousand people killed and about 24 thousand wounded. Hitler’s forces lost about 30 thousand soldiers and officers killed, more than 15 thousand were captured.
In parallel with Tallinn was the Riga operation for the liberation of Latvia. It began earlier - September 14, but lasted longer - until October 22. After the Tallinn Red Army, together with the Finnish forces, during the Moonsund landing operation liberated the archipelago of the same name. This was followed by the Memel operation, which allowed the Soviet troops to go to Riga and complete the Riga campaign.
“The liberation of Tallinn by Soviet troops was an important symbolic moment. The Red Army brought peace to Estonian land, ”concluded Andrey Koshkin.