Operation Battle of Temuhardi

The 'Battle of Tehumardi' was a battle fought between Soviet and German forces as part of the former’s 'Moonzund Landing Operation' on the Estonian island of Saaremaa (Osel in German) (8/9 October 1944).

Launched by the Soviets on 29 September 1944, the 'Moonzund Landing Operation' on the three islands in the mouth of the Gulf of Riga had quickly gained ground. The small island of Muhu (Moon in German) was taken by the Soviets against little organised resistance, as was Hiiumaa (Dagö in German). On 5 October, the Soviets landed on Saaremaa. In a reversal of the 'Beowulf' fighting in 1941, the Germans conducted a quick fighting withdrawal, and planned to make a stand on the easily defendable peninsula of Sőrve (Sworbe in German).

Hauptmann H. Ulrichs’s 1/67th Grenadierregiment and Hauptmann Klaus Ritter’s 2/67th Grenadierregiment of Generalleutnant Hans Schirmer’s 23rd Division, which was a formation of General Kurt Versock 's XLIII Corps within General Ehrenfried Boege’s 18th Army, had occupied a defensive position on the Nasva river, just to the west of the town of Kuressaare (Arensburg in German). The two battalions constituted an element of the Kampfgruppe 'Eulenburg', most of which already had taken up positions on the Sőrve peninsula, and together the two much reduced battalions mustered between 700 and 750 men. As they were unable to communicate with their parent unit and became increasingly isolated, toward midnight on 8 October they were ordered to retreat to Sőrve.

Meanwhile, bypassing the German position on the Nasva river, Soviet units moved southward to occupy positions astride the main road leading to the peninsula. These Soviet forces were elements of the 307th Anti-Tank Battalion from the Estonian 249th Division, totalling about 370 men under the command of Major V. Miller. Later that evening, this initial battalion was joined by the 1/917th Regiment of some 300 men under the command of Major G. Karaulnov, which was advancing down a secondary road leading to the small village of Tehumardi just short of the bottleneck of the peninsula. Many of the soldiers in the Soviet units were forcibly conscripted Estonians and, for lack of reconnaissance, the troops were unaware of the withdrawing German units, and the stage was set for a confused nocturnal engagement battle.

The Germans' fear of being stragglers soon proved to be correct, as the only road had already been cratered by other German units as they pulled back. Bypassing this obstacle took some time, and the German vehicles were slowly pulled across the destroyed sector of the road with the help of a US-made M3 Stuart light tank recently captured from the Soviets.

Suspecting a Soviet presence, the German soldiers had been instructed to keep as silent as possible, and were thus able to break through the Soviet positions with a surprise attack. The two battalions then divided, the 1/67th Grenaderregiment moving along the coast and the 2/67th Grenadierregiment moving along the main road in parallel with the coast, which was about 220 yards (200 m) distant. The 2/67th Grenadierregiment soon found itself marching in parallel with a Soviet unit which, believing the force to its left to be another Soviet unit, made way for it until the light of flares revealed the real situation, and then the battle began.

The Soviet force, which was the 1/917th Regiment, was quickly overwhelmed, but the Germans then ran into the anti-tank positions of the 370th Anti-Tank Battalion. The fighting swiftly degenerated into chaotic hand-to-hand combat in the darkness, resulting in heavy losses on each side, but the Germans broke through. Their actions kept the Soviets occupied, however, and the 1/67th Grenadierregiment moving along the coast took no part in the fighting and suffered no losses.

The majority of the Germans were thus able to break through the Soviet position to join the defence of the Sőrve peninsula, but almost 200 men had been lost. Captured German soldiers were shot, as generally happened during the fighting on the island. Most of the Germans' vehicles were also abandoned, the lost vehicles including the light tank and a self-propelled anti-aircraft gun. The Soviets also suffered about 200 men killed, together with an unknown number of men wounded. The Soviet dead included the commander, Miller. At least one tank and several guns were also destroyed.

The action delayed the Soviet attack on the peninsula, giving the Germans more time to improve their defences. But the hard-pressed German forces could ill afford losses in equipment and manpower at this stage of the war. After several weeks more of bitter fighting, the Sőrve peninsula, and thereby the entire island of Saaremaa, was evacuated by the Germans on the 23/24 November.