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ESTONIAN VOLUNTEERS IN FINLAND DURING WW II 1939 - 1944

Discussion in 'Eastern Europe' started by JCFalkenbergIII, Feb 9, 2008.

  1. JCFalkenbergIII

    JCFalkenbergIII Expert

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    ESTONIAN VOLUNTEERS IN FINLAND DURING WW II 1939 - 1944


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    Eesti auks, tuleviku pandiks!
    (For the honour of Estonia, for the pledge of the future!)
    Text in the flag of Infantry Regiment 200.

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    Estonian volunteers in Winter War 1939 - 1940

    At the end of 1939 Estonia and Finland were under the hard political and military pressure of Soviet Union. Strong Red Army formations of about 25.000 men were already on Estonian ground. Soviet bombers flew air raids to Southern Finland from Estonian airfields when the Winter War started on 30.11.1939.

    During the Winter War most Estonian volunteers arrived in Finland skiing across the frozen Gulf of Finland. Volunteers were sent to unofficial "volunteer foreign brigade" called Detachment Sisu (Osasto Sisu, Os.S) located at Lapua. Detachment was founded on 8.1.1940 and subordinated to Home Troops Staff. First Estonian volunteers enlisted on 9.1.1940. When the Winter War ended on 13.3.1940 unit was still training at Lapua and Estonians were the most numerous group.

    In addition to Detachment Sisu about 200 Estonian volunteers fought on the front and at least one was killed in action. After the Winter War most volunteers stayed in Finland but those who travelled back to Estonia which rather soon became Soviet Estonia were imprisoned and sent to Soviet prison camps. Former Commander-in-Chief of Estonia Army General Johan Leidoner was also arrested and murdered in Soviet Union in 1940.
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    Estonian volunteers in Continuation War 1941 - 1944

    Already at the beginning of Soviet occupation in 1940 lots of Estonian refugees escaped from Soviet Estonia using small boats because of Soviets' illegal acts against Estonian people. Some of them had arrived in Finland while others travelled to neutral Sweden. A few Finnish speaking Estonians joined Finnish Army and Navy during 1940 and 1941.

    When during the early phases of Operation Barbarossa Germans occupied Estonia in 1941 they treated Estonians like other Soviet people. Estonians would have been ready to fight against Soviet Union as volunteers even under German flag but Germans' negative attitude spoiled the atmosphere.

    Estonian pilots formed a volunteer flying unit of their own but Germans' didn't take it quite seriously and so Estonian Sonderkommando Buschmann operated with a handful of captured Soviet aircraft and other ancient planes.
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    Volunteer Estonian Infantry Regiment 200

    Attempts to form volunteer Estonian units under German Wehrmacht were unfruitful. Conscription became compulsory later in 1942 and Germans forced Estonians to join their so called Estonian Legion, a Waffen-SS organization commanded by the Germans. Former Estonian military leaders and higher officers turned now to Finnish Government and asked Finland to form Estonian volunteer unit. Things went on slowly because Germans were unwilling to leave Estonians to go to Finland but the number of Estonians grew when more and more volunteers who didn't want to serve in German units arrived in Finland during the 1943.

    In the autumn 1942 the Commander of Finnish III Battalion / Infantry Regiment 47 (18.D) Major C. Gripenberg proposed that all volunteer Estonians would be gathered into his battalion (nicknamed "Vallila Battalion") in Karelian Isthmus. Marshal Mannerheim was Gripenberg's maternal uncle and supported the idea. Already in the summer of 1943 Gripenperg's battalion had over 370 Estonian volunteers. The highest Estonian officer was Major J. Peiker as the assistant of the Battalion Commander.

    At the end of 1943 it was decided to form the whole Estonian volunteer regiment in Finland: Infantry Regiment 200 (Jalkaväkirykmentti 200, JR 200). It was officially formed on 18.2.1944. Regiment consisted of two infantry battalions and regimental units and was commanded by Finnish Lt.Col. E. Kuusela who spoke fluent Estonian. Unit was at first subordinated to Kannas Group (Kannaksen ryhmä) re-named later IV Army Corps (IV Armeijakunta).

    Former III/JR 47 was re-named as I/JR 200 (I Battalion) and it was located at Jalkala, Karelian Isthmus. Commander of the I Battalion was Finnish Major E. Kivelä who was a very experienced and appreciated soldier and the Knight of the Mannerheim Cross number 9. Strength of the I Battalion was 37 officiers + 94 NCOs + 749 men = 880 men. Those volunteers who had no former military training were in II/JR 200 (II Battalion) at Taavetti (Luumäki) in Military Training Center Number 26. Commander of the II Battalion was Finnish Lt.Col. V. Savonen who also spoke fluent Estonian.

    The sole unit within JR 200 which had only Estonian leaders was [AT] Gun Company (Tykkikomppania, Tyk.K) or 14./JR 200 led by Lt. A. Kann. Gun Company had three gun platoons equipped with a total of four 50 Pst.K/38 and two 75 Pst.K/97-38 AT guns. Company was at first trained in Karelian Isthmus but came back to Taavetti at the beginning of June 1944. Strength was 5 officers + 14 NCOs + 118 men = 137 men.

    Mortar Company (Kranaatinheitinkomppania, Krh.K) or 13./JR 200 had two heavy mortar platoons equipped with 120 mm mortars (3 + 3) and two additional light mortar platoons equipped with 81 mm mortars (3 + 3). The last ones were for infantry battalions after training.

    Other regimental units were Signals Company (Viestikomppania, VK) (strength 2 + 10 + 137 = 149 men) at Järvenpää (50 kms north from Helsinki) and Engineer Platoon (Pioneerijoukkue, Pion.J) (strength 1 + 5 + 52 = 58 men) at Utti. The latter one was commanded by Estonian 2nd Lt. E. Jaagus.
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    Estonians in Combat

    In the summer of 1944 I/JR 200 was at Karelian Isthmus when the Soviets' massive "Fifth Strategic Strike" began on 9.6.1944. During the day battalion was subordinated to 10.D. After breakthrough at Valkeasaari next day battalion was ordered to counter-attack enemy's armoured spearhead together with Jäger Battalion 1 (Jääkäripataljoona 1, JP 1) from Cavalry Brigade. I/JR 200 was without its own AT weapons but it had one AT gun borrowed from 10.D. Despite of that battalion managed to stop the attack of 10 - 12 Soviet tanks at Raivola. Battalion remained at their positions until it was ordered to withdraw to VT-line at Sahakylä and later to Vammeljärvi for rest. Losses - 14 killed, 37 wounded and 58 missed - were not as high as they could have been.

    On 12 June 1944 battalion was subordinated to 2.D and ordered back to VT-line at Ahijärvi next day. On 16.6. Soviets broke through the VT-line at Kuuterselkä but Estonian battalion hold the line at Ahijärvi two more days. It was then moved to coastal defence at the Bay of Viborg and subordinated to Cavalry Brigade. Losses during this period were 12 KIA + 52 WIA + 7 MIA.

    II/JR 200 and regimental units arrived in the Bay of Viborg at Uuras on 21.6. 10 km west from the positions of I/JR 200. Constant air raids and concentrated artillery fire inflicted minor losses but battalion saw no other action against Soviets. On 7 July II/JR 200 was moved next to I/JR 200. Regiment was for the first time together and was ironically subordinated to German 122. Infanterie-Division "Greif". In Germans' eyes all Estonians in Finland were deserters because Germans had formed their own "volunteer" Estonian units in 1943 and 1944. Despite of that Germans and Estonians fought side by side and repelled all attacks succesfully. Now JR 200 received for the first time new German AT weapons Panzerfausts and Panzerschrecks.

    On 17 July regiment was subordinated to 15.D and it was moved to the line at River Vuoksi. Fortress Battalion 4 and 5 (Linnoituspataljoona 4 & 5, Lin.P 4 & 5) were subordinated to JR 200. Officers were also re-positioned: Maj. E.Kivelä became the Chief of Staff of JR 200, Estonian Cav.Capt. V. Pärlin took the command of I/JR 200 and Estonian Maj. J. Peiker commanded II/JR 200 thereafter.
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    Return to Home

    When the Soviets attacked Estonia in 1944 it was decided between Finnish and German military authorities that regiment can go back to defend Estonia but without its weapons. Regiment was moved across the Gulf of Finland on 19 August 1944 but over 150 men stayed in Finland. They were releaved from duty on 17 September 1944. Regiment Commander Lt.Col. Kuusela wrote in his order of the day: "Stay calm and keep the faith to the future of Estonia".

    When the regiment arrived in Estonia its strength was 168 officers + 162 NCOs + 1.422 men = 1.752. Germans forced soldiers to wear German SS uniforms at once but most refused to leave their "field gray" Finnish uniforms. All weapons given to Estonians were obsolete and only a handful of shots were distributed to each soldier. Additionally battalions were separated again and re-trained by officers and NCOs from Estonian SS Legion. This would not have been necessary because all Estonians were already well trained in Finland and most men had rather good military experience. Both battalions fought hard against Russians even after German troops left their positions and escaped from the front towards Germany. Most survived Estonians fought later in various German units until the end of the war.
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    Estonian Volunteers in Other Finnish Units

    Estonian radio experts served in Supreme HQ Radio Battalion (Päämajan radiopataljoona, PM Rad.P) and those who also spoke Russian in Air Force Radio Battalion (Ilmavoimien radiopataljoona, Ilmav.Rad.P). In 1943 Finnish Radio Intelligence (Radiotiedustelu) (Commander Col. R. Hallama) formed secret Estonian group codenamed "Hawk" which was actually reconnaissance group intended for Estonia in special duties after Germans withdrawal.

    Estonian engine mechanics were in Motor Car Repair Shop 5 (Autokorjaamo V).

    About 400 mainly former Estonian merchant fleet sailors served in Finnish Navy. One of the best-known Estonians was Lt. L. Loodus who acted as the 1st Officer and later in the summer 1944 as Chief of gun boat Karjala.
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    http://www.geocities.com/finnmilpge/fmp_jr200.html
     
  2. Vince Noir

    Vince Noir Member

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    I have a pic of an Estonian volunteer in the WInter War in 1940 armed with a Japanese Ariska rifle...

    Must have been a pain finding ammo for that in Finland!
     
  3. JCFalkenbergIII

    JCFalkenbergIII Expert

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    LOL Some weapons were found in the strangest of places and users :)
     
  4. Chuikov64th

    Chuikov64th Member

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    I read about the Estonian volunteers in Veliki Luki that gives a much different perspective than this. They fought on both sides there and seemed more interested in surviving than dying for Stalin or Hitler. A company would defect to the Germans and a few days later defect back to the Russians when they saw that they were on the losing side of the line.

    I can't blame them, they really had no dog in the fight. Sad that the Balts and Poles seem to suffer the worst when Europeans and Russians want to go at one another.
     
  5. JCFalkenbergIII

    JCFalkenbergIII Expert

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    Attempts to form volunteer Estonian units under German Wehrmacht were unfruitful. Conscription became compulsory later in 1942 and Germans forced Estonians to join their so called Estonian Legion, a Waffen-SS organization commanded by the Germans. Former Estonian military leaders and higher officers turned now to Finnish Government and asked Finland to form Estonian volunteer unit. Things went on slowly because Germans were unwilling to leave Estonians to go to Finland but the number of Estonians grew when more and more volunteers who didn't want to serve in German units arrived in Finland during the 1943.


    It does look like they sure didn't want to serve under the Germans.
     
  6. Kai-Petri

    Kai-Petri Kenraali

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    Co-operation with the Finns is quite understandable in my book. We speak very much the same way, and have a background of previous co-operation. For instance during the Independence battles lots of Finns were helping Estonia in 1918-1919 to get independence. Or getting rid of the Czarist/communistic influence, whatever you like to call it.
     
  7. Paul Errass

    Paul Errass Member

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    Another very complicated issue here but is isn't broadly true that the Estonians didn't want to fight for the Germans !!

    Most Estonians wanted to fight to protect Estonia and regain independance and having lived under Soviet rule prior to Barbarossa had decided that the Germans were the lesser of the two evils and many volunteered to join German formations as early as 19412 /42 when the Eastern / Police and Security Batalions were formed, Estonian Security Btl 36 fought in the Stalingrad area in late 1942 !!

    Some went to Finland to fight the Russians there due to the close ties to the Finns explained by Kai .

    Many men from these units formed the Estonian Legion which formed on 29/9/42 the Legion went on to fight in the Nevel front. The I Btl of the Legion became Batttalion " Narva " on 31/3/43 and fought with the Wiking Division in the Ukraine and the Cherkassy pocket replacing the Finnish Btl ,until it returned to Estonia in early 1944 when it became the Fusilier Btl of the 20th Estonian SS Divison.

    The so called " Finnish boys " of the Finnish IR 200 returned to Estonia on 19/8/44 as Finland was on the brink of a peace agreement with the Russians. Understandably as they were to become part of 20 SS Div all other ranks were given SS Uniforms but the officers retained their grey Finnish ones. They saw action in the Tartu area.

    Have spoken to Estonian veterans who fought with the Germans many of whom are members of German vet organisations , they are proud of their service and the fact that as members of the Waffen SS they were given excellent training and weopons to defend their homeland.

    Of course many Estonians who were deported in 1940/41 to Russia ended up serving with the Red Army in the 8th Estonian Rifle Corps , one of their biggest battles was at Veliki Luki .

    As i said a very complicated issue !!

    regards

    Paul
     
  8. Kai-Petri

    Kai-Petri Kenraali

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    What I can find from the Finnish pages of the Estonian volunteers it is mentioned the Germans would have wanted the Estonian units created in early 1943 to fight in the Caucasus area. Don´t know how true this is, but anyway it could explain why so many escaped to Finland.
     
  9. JCFalkenbergIII

    JCFalkenbergIII Expert

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    That would make sense. They probably wouldn't have wanted them fighting in Finland but rather fighting for them.
     
  10. Paul Errass

    Paul Errass Member

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    Most of the Finnish boys of IR 200 left Estonia for Finland as a result of the Military service obligation placed on all males born in 1925 in 1943 , hundreds of them left for Finland whilst 3,375 were recruitred in to the Estonian Legion.
     
  11. JCFalkenbergIII

    JCFalkenbergIII Expert

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    Bumpies
     
  12. Kai-Petri

    Kai-Petri Kenraali

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    The peace treaty with the USSR demanded Finland would give the JR200 men to the USSR. Many fled to Sweden but many considered they could not leave their families in their home land. I have heard of stories the first estonians would have been shot in the train once it crossed the border to the USSR.
     
  13. Kai-Petri

    Kai-Petri Kenraali

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    BTW,

    I have a three set photo album of a Finnish company commander leading JR 200 men. Excellent size photos 6x9 cm and many having text of the photo situation/place. One of my "treasures" as I see it. :)
     

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