This was the Soviet strategic offensive 1 against Generalfeldmarschall Georg von Küchler’s (from 1 February Generalfeldmarschall Walter Model’s) Heeresgruppe ‘Nord’ by General Leonid A. Govorov’s Leningrad Front, General Kirill A. Meretskov’s Volkhov Front and part of General Markian M. Popov’s 2nd Baltic Front in order to lift the siege of Leningrad (14 January/1 March 1944).
The Soviet high command’s strategy at this time was based on the immediate resumption of a general winter offensive in the hope that the Germans would not expect this, and the Soviets thus planned to take the offensive in both the Leningrad area and Ukraine, at the northern and southern ends of the Eastern front in the USSR, in order to clear Soviet territory as far to the west as the old border with the Baltic states and Romania. The Soviets also intended to maintain pressure on the centre of the Eastern Front so that the Germans could not remove formations from this central sector to reinforce the northern and southern sectors.
In the north the offensive, which it had taken some 10 weeks to prepare, was to be launched by Govorov’s Leningrad Front on the left of the exposed 18th Army, commanded by von Küchler until 16 January when Generaloberst Georg Lindemann took over, from the Oranienbaum beach-head to the west of Leningrad on the south coast of the Gulf of Finland, and also from the area to the south of Leningrad, while Meretskov’s Volkhov Front penetrated the same army’s right flank, making its main thrust from the area to the north of Lake Ilmen near Novgorod. The immediate object of the offensive was the double envelopment and destruction of the 18th Army. Slightly farther to the south Popov’s 2nd Baltic Front was to engage and pin General Christian Hansen’s 16th Army.
In all, the three Soviets fronts comprised the equivalent of 105 infantry divisions and 12 tank brigades, and the Leningrad and Volkhov Fronts alone claimed a numerical superiority of at least 6/1 in armoured fighting vehicles and aircraft over the 18th Army.
On the Soviet side Vitse Admiral Vladimir F. Tributs’s Baltic Fleet had been assigned the task of transporting General Leytenant Ivan I. Fedyuninsky’s 2nd Shock Army from Leningrad down the Gulf of Finland to the Oranienbaum lodgement. Thus from 5 November 1943 the Baltic Fleet transported 30,000 troops, 47 tanks, 400 pieces of artillery, 1,400 trucks and 10,000 tons of ammunition and supplies from the wharves of the Leningrad factories, Kanat and the naval base at Lisiy Nos to Oranienbaum. After Gulf of Finland had frozen, another 22,000 men, 800 trucks, 140 tanks and 380 pieces of artillery were sent over the ice to the jump-off point for the ‘Yanvar’ Grom’ subsidiary of the ‘Leningrad-Novgorod Strategic Offensive Operation’.
When these movements had been completed, Soviet artillery was positioned along the entire length of the Leningrad, Volkhov and 2nd Baltic Fronts at a concentration of 320 pieces per mile (200 pieces per kilometre), the total including 21,600 pieces of standard artillery and mortars, 1,500 Katyusha rocket launchers and 600 anti-aircraft guns. Further support was afforded by 1,500 aircraft contributed by the Baltic Fleet and installations around Leningrad. The total number of Soviet troops was 1.241 million against 741,000 German troops.
The Leningrad Front had 33 infantry divisions and three infantry brigades, five static divisions and four tank brigades. The Volkhov Front had 22 infantry divisions, six infantry brigades and four tank brigades. The 2nd Baltic Front had 45 infantry divisions, three infantry brigades and four tank brigades. The Leningrad and Volkhov Fronts had a combined total of 1,200 armoured fighting fighting (tanks and self-propelled guns) and 14,300 pieces of artillery.
At a final meeting on 11 January in Smolny, Govorov listed his priorities: to open the south-eastward and eastward main railway lines from Leningrad, the Soviet forces had to seize Gatchina, to the south-west of Leningrad, from which they could advance to retake Mga, the town and railway station whose capture in 1941 had closed the last railway route into Leningrad. Govorov positioned his troops accordingly.
The situation of Heeresgruppe ‘Nord’ at the end of 1943 had deteriorated to a critical point. One Spanish volunteer division and three German divisions had been withdrawn by October, while the army group’s front had been stretched by an additional 60 miles (100 km) transferred from the northern end of Generalfeldmarschall Ernst Busch’s Heeresgruppe ‘Mitte’ during the same period. As replacements, von Küchler received three SS divisions and the regimental-size spanisch Legion (otherwise the Legión de Voluntarios Españoles or Legión Azul).
Given its weakness, the army group planned a new and straighter position to its rear in order to shorten its front by 25% and remove the threats posed by the many Soviet salients into its current line. This ‘Blau’ (iii) plan was based on a withdrawal of more than 150 miles (240 km) during January 1944 to the natural defensive barrier formed by the Narva and Velikaya rivers and Lakes Peipus and Pskov. The planned new position, which was the northern end of the so-called ‘Panther-Wotan-Stellung’, was centred on fortifications that had been constructed since September. The retreat was to be effected in stages, using intermediate defensive positions, the most important of which was the ‘Rollbahn-Linie’ along the Oktyabr’skaya Zheleznaya Doroga (October Railway) running through Tosno, Lyuban and Chudovo. There the 18th Army’s two most exposed formations, General Carl Hilpert’s (from 1 January General Martin Grase’s) XXVI Corps and General Herbert Loch’s XXVIII Corps, were to regroup before pulling back to their positions in the ‘Panther-Stellung’.
The fate of Heeresgruppe ‘Nord’ became still more problematical in the new year, for Adolf Hitler rejected all proposals for an early withdrawal into the ‘Panther-Wotan-Stellung’ positions, insisting that the Soviet forces had to be kept as far as possible from Germany and compelled to pay dearly for each yard of ground they took. Finally, Hitler transferred three more high-quality infantry divisions out of Heeresgruppe ‘Nord’ to reinforce Generalfeldmarschall Erich von Manstein’s Heeresgruppe ‘Süd’ as it was driven back from the Dniepr river in the southern part of Ukraine under continuous assault within the current part of the Soviets' multi-phase 'Dniepr-Carpathian Strategic Offensive Operation'.
Thus von Küchler now found his command in a still more precarious position, and could await the course of events on the Leningrad and Volkhov Fronts only with great pessimism. In overall terms, therefore, Heeresgruppe ‘Nord’ had a strength of 40 infantry divisions, one Panzergrenadier division and two mountain divisions to hold a front of 500 miles (805 km) in terrain which was heavily forested and largely marshy where it was not forested. Also available to the front for emergency use were one field training division and three security divisions, all of indifferent combat capability. The 18th Army totalled 21 infantry divisions, of which five were ex-Luftwaffe field divisions. There were no reserves and very little armour, and divisional frontages were as much as 14.25 miles (23 km).
On 14 January Fedyuninsky’s 2nd Shock Army attacked out of the Oranienbaum lodgement in ‘Yanvar’ Grom’ through a perimeter held by only two ex-Luftwaffe field divisions, SS-Gruppenführer und Generalmajor der Waffen-SS Fritz Scholz’s 11th SS Panzergrenadierdivision ‘Nordland’ and other elements under the command of SS-Obergruppenführer und General der Waffen-SS Felix Steiner’s III SS Panzerkorps (germanisch). After heavy fighting the German defenders began to give ground.
One day later General Leytenant Ivan I. Maslennikov’s 42nd Army attacked to the south-west across the Neva river from the area to the south of Leningrad, while General Leytenant Vladimir P. Sviridov’s 67th Army made a diversionary attack in the area of Mga, and by 19 January the 42nd and 2nd Shock Armies had met, cutting off some German troops in Peterhof on the coast of the Gulf of Finland between Leningrad and Oranienbaum.
Farther to the east and south-east, Meretskov’s Volkhov Front was to pin the centre of Lindemann’s 18th Army (General Otto Sponheimer’s LIV Corps and Grase’s XXVI Corps) and at the same time penetrate the 18th Army’s southern flank. The pinning operation in the north was undertaken by General Leytenant Filipp N. Starikov’s 8th Army and General Leytenant Sergei V. Roginsky’s 54th Army, and was so successful that the latter began to envelop the XXVI Corps. The Volkhov Front’s enveloping attack by General Leytenant Ivan T. Korovnikov’s 59th Army farther to the south near Novgorod also fell on a Luftwaffe field division near the boundary between the 16th Army and the 18th Army.
After some initial success, however, the 59th Army made only a very slow advance, as bad weather and lack of visibility made air and artillery support difficult, and the armour became bogged down in the marshes.
To the south of Novgorod, however, Soviet troops had more success when General Leytenant Gennadi P. Korotkov’s 1st Shock Army of Popov’s 2nd Baltic Front crossed the frozen Lake Ilmen in a snow storm, cutting off German troops in the area of the city.
von Küchler, well aware of the Soviet intention to envelop 18th Army on each flank, pressed Hitler in vain for permission to withdraw the exposed XXVI Corps and XXVIII Corps to an intermediate ‘Rollbahn-Linie’ position on the line of the rail line lining Leningrad and Chudovo.
By 26 January the Soviet forces had regained control of the railway line linking Moscow and Leningrad, and Iosef Stalin declared that the siege of Leningrad had been raised, and that the German forces had been expelled from the Leningrad region. The lifting of the 900-day blockade was celebrated in Leningrad on that day with a 324-gun salute.
Meanwhile, on 22 January, von Küchler had personally explained the difficulty of the situation to Hitler, since by then the LIV Corps as well as the XXVI Corps were threatened by envelopment in the area of Mga and Tosno; but all von Küchler received was the promise of a Panzer division to be transferred from Heeresgruppe ‘Mitte’. Hitler was opposed to allowing the break-out of the troops encircled in the Novgorod area, and when later he reversed his decision, the order was given too late to make a break-out possible.
The same difficulty arose in the withdrawal to the ‘Rollbahn-Linie’ intermediate line, for when authorisation was granted the German defenders were already too closely pressed and the ‘Rollbahn-Linie’ could not be held.
Conditions had always been bitter in the Volkhov sector for both German and Soviet troops. There had been relatively little movement over the last two years, and in many places the fighting had taken the character of trench warfare in heavily wooded marshes.
The Soviet offensive now smashed into the German defenders with a fury none had expected. On the night of 19 January the men of Generalleutnant Johann Sinnhuber’s 28th leichte Division encircled in Novgorod received the order to break out. The seriously wounded had to be abandoned, the medical staff volunteering to remain behind with them, and all who could carry weapons, including the walking wounded, tried to pull out in the night. Elsewhere, to the north-east the Germans fell back under heavy artillery fire while the Soviet air forces bombed and machine gunned all movement. German formations and units became mixed and confused, and the combat units steadily drew in stragglers and rear-echelon elements. Everyone suffered from the wet and lack of sleep and food, and unless supply column commanders took most energetic action to maintain contact, all attempts to effect any replenishment failed. The ex-Luftwaffe field divisions confirmed their low quality by disintegrating, and in some of the infantry divisions nearly all the regimental and battalion commanders were killed or wounded. Divisional infantry strengths fell to as little as 500 men. There were also an increasing number of instances of panic and desertion. Gatchina, the main German railhead, came under an intense fire from the large-calibre guns of the Soviet warships in the Gulf of Finland and was rendered unusable.
On 28 January von Küchler on his own responsibility ordered the 18th Army to fall back to the line of the Luga river, though he could not promise Hitler that even this could, let alone would, be held. The German leader, choosing to ignore the fact that if the 18th Army had held its original positions it would have been encircled, used the situation to argue that the fault lay with von Küchler for having advised withdrawal in the first place. On the same day he said to Generaloberst Kurt Zeitzler, the chief-of-staff of the Oberkommando des Heeres, that the experience of the last three years had proved, if it had shown anything at all, that retirement from a position in order to shorten the front or to establish a more secure defence line meant that the new position could not be held.
On 29 January von Küchler was retired and replaced by Model who, Hitler believed, was a superb defensive commander. Model was given two more divisions from Heeresgruppe ‘Mitte’, and although the commitment of a Panzer division near the town of Luga temporarily checked the Soviet advance, it was far too late for the Germans to hold the line of the river, the situation in their rear becoming increasingly confused as partisans derailed trains and demolished railway lines and bridges.
According to the Soviets, by 30 January the 'Krasnoye Selo-Ropsha Offensive Operation' and 'Novgorod-Luga Offensive Operation' had cost the Germans 21,000 casualties and 85 pieces of artillery in the calibre range between 5.9 and 15.75 in (150 to 400 mm) as they were pushed back between 37 and 60 miles (60 and 100 km) from Leningrad to the line of the Luga river.
At first the main Soviet effort appeared to be developing on the 18th Army’s north-west flank, where the 2nd Shock and 42nd Armies were already on the lower Luga threatening the narrow neck of land to the north of Lake Peipus. However, as Model began to shift troops over to this left flank, the 16th Army on the right came under increasingly heavy attack from Popov’s 2nd Baltic Front. From this time onward the whole of Heeresgruppe ‘Nord’ appeared to be in imminent danger of envelopment.
On 15 February, in the middle of the Soviet 'Kingisepp-Gdov Offensive Operation', Hitler was forced to agree to the revived 'Blau' (iii) withdrawal of Heeresgruppe ‘Nord’ from Russia to the ‘Panther-Stellung’ defences in Estonia and Latvia. The situation then became still more complex and dangerous as Finland started to ask the USSR for armistice terms, raising the spectre of an unhindered Soviet advance toward northern Norway and possibly the occupation of Finland’s coast on the northern side of the Gulf of Finland, from which a descent behind the 18th Army's left flank might then be feasible.
The third of the four components of the 'Leningrad-Novgorod Strategic Offensive Operation' was the 'Kingisepp-Gdov Offensive Operation', which took place between 1 February and 1 March on the northern end of the front held by Heeresgruppe 'Nord' between the Leningrad Front and the 18th Army for the eastern shore of Lake Peipus and the western bank of the Narva river.
General Major Ivan P. Alferov’s CIX Corps captured the town of Kingisepp, forcing the 18th Army into new positions on the eastern bank of the Narva river. Forward units of the 2nd Shock Army crossed the river and established several bridgeheads on the western bank in areas to the north and south of the town of Narva on 2 February. The 8th Army expanded the bridgehead in the Krivasoo swamp to the south of the town five days later, cutting the line of the railway to the rear of General Otto Sponheimer’s Gruppe 'Sponheimer' created out of the commander’s LIV Corps and the precursor of the Armeeabteilung 'Narwa'. Govorov was unable to take advantage of the opportunity of encircling the smaller German detachment, which was able to garner reinforcement, most of the latter from newly mobilised Estonian units motivated largely by their desire to resist the looming Soviet reoccupation of their country. At the same time, General Major (soon General Leytenant) Mikhail F. Tikhonov’s CVIII Corps landed units across Lake Peipus on Piirissaar island 75 miles (120 km) to the south of Narva, and established a bridgehead in Meerapalu. By coincidence, the 1/45th Waffen-Grenadierregiment der SS (estnische Nr 1), which was moving toward Narva, reached the area in question and in co-operation with one battalion of the 44th Infanterieregiment (with personnel from East Prussia) and warplanes destroyed the Soviet bridgehead on 15/16 February. A simultaneous Soviet amphibious assault, by the 517 men of the 260th Independent Naval Brigade, landed at Mereküla on the north coast of the Gulf of Riga, and thus in the rear of the Gruppe 'Sponheimer', but was almost completely annihilated.
As the result of this operation, Soviet forces seized control of most of the eastern shore of Lake Peipus and established a number of bridgeheads on the western bank of the Narva river.
The CIX Corps captured Kingisepp on 1 February, and elements of the 18th Army fought a rearguard action until the army had reached the eastern bank of the Narva river. The Gruppe 'Sponheimer' blew up the ice on the southern 30-mile (50-km) section of the Narva river from Lake Peipus to the Krivasoo swamp to prevent the Soviet ground forces from making an immediate crossing. To the north of Kingisepp, the 4th Regiment reached the Narva river and established a small bridgehead across it on 2 February, and by this time the fighting to the east of the Narva river had left a large number of German troops stranded on the wrong side of the front. Simultaneously and farther to the south, General Major Pantelemon A. Zaitsev’s CXXII Corps crossed the river near Vääska and established a bridgehead in the Krivasoo swamp some 6.2 miles (10 km) to the south of Narva.
The main weight of the Soviet offensive fell on the area in which the Germans had least expected it, namely the bridgehead held by the III SS Panzerkorps on the eastern side of the Narva river. The SS Panzerkorps comprised for the most part ex-Luftwaffe field divisions and SS volunteer ethnic formations: SS-Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der Waffen-SS Jürgen Wagner’s 4th SS-Freiwilligen Panzergrenadierbrigade 'Nederland' and SS-Gruppenführer und Generalleutnant der Waffen-SS Fritz von Scholz Edler von Barancze’s 11th SS-Freiwilligen Panzergrenadierdivision 'Nordland' began to dig in along what had now become known as the 'Narwa-Linie': this extended 6.8 miles (11 km) from Lilienbach 1.2 miles (2 km) to the north-east from the road bridge over the Narva river southward to Dolgaya Niva in the eastward bulge in the German line. The 4th SS-Freiwilligen Panzergrenadierbrigade 'Nederland' held the northern half of the bridgehead while the 11th SS-Freiwilligen Panzergrenadierdivision 'Nordland' held the southern flank.
Attacking them along the lines of the road and railway were the four divisions of General Leytenant Konstantin S. Kolganov’s XLII Corps and Alferov’s CIX Corps. The 4th SS-Freiwilligen Panzergrenadierbrigade 'Nederland' and the 1/24th SS-Freiwilligen SS-Panzergrenadierregiment 'Danmark' inflicted heavy casualties on the Soviets, who failed in their task of destroying the German bridgehead on the eastern side of the Narva river: the German defence was excellently supported by artillery manoeuvred back and forth between the eastern and western banks, a tricky task made possible by the fact that the the bridge over the Narva river was hidden from numerous Soviet air attacks by dense smoke screens.
In the Krivasoo swamp, some 6.2 miles (10 km) to the south of Narva, the 1078th Regiment and the ski battalion of the 314th Division crossed the river under a heavy German air and artillery attack in a four-hour undertaking. Despite the resistance of the 29th Polizeibataillon (estnisch), the 314th Division approached Auvere railway station 6.2 miles (10 km) to the west of Narva, threatening to cut the railway behind the III SS Panzerkorps and the two divisional-sized formations of the Gruppe 'Sponheimer'. There was ferocious fighting in which the 314th Division took severe losses and had to be supported by the 125th Division. Thus revitalised, the Soviet formations took the railway crossing near Auvere station on 6 February but then lost it on the same day under the fire of German coastal artillery. From then on, the Soviet forces remained on the defensive in the Auvere sector, which offered the Gruppe 'Sponheimer' an opportunity to rebuild its strength.
The Soviets forced all the civilian women found in Auvere, Kriivasoo, Sirgala and the other settlements in the bridgehead to carry ammunition and supplies to the front line.
Two platoons of the 147th Regiment volunteered to cross the river to the villages of Omuti, Permisküla and Gorodenka some 25 miles (40 km) to the south of Narva on 2 February in the sector held by the 30th Polizeibataillon (estnisch) as a series of small bridgeheads on the river’s eastern bank. These seemed to the Soviets to be a carefully prepared defence system in front of the main defence line. When the initial Soviet assault was repelled, the Soviet headquarters took some hours to prepare a second attack by the 219th and 320th Regiments. When the Soviets renewed the attack, the Estonians pulled back to the eastern bank of the river, thereby breaking the momentum of the Soviet assault and inflicting heavy losses. Even so, a much reduced platoon commanded by a Lieutenant Morozov managed to take and hold a tiny bridgehead on the river’s western side.
Soviet operations during February were much hampered by problems in supply, as the major transport connections on the eastern approaches to the Narva river had been largely destroyed by the Germans as they pulled back, and the remaining poor-quality roads were in imminent damager of falling to pieces as the thaw started. Another failure was that of intelligence as to German strengths and positions as a result of the fact that the partisan troops which the Soviets had activated in Estonia were located and destroyed.
The 98th and 131st Tank Divisions established a bridgehead on the western bank of the Narva river near Siivertsi to the north of Narva on 12 February, and this bridgehead soon became the most critical position on the whole of the Narva front: if the Soviets succeeded here, Narva would fall quickly and the German bridgehead on the eastern bank of the river would be cut off. All available German units were therefore committed against the Soviet bridgehead.
The Soviet artillery opened fire on the 16th Kompanie of the 23rd SS Panzergrenadierregiment 'Norge' in Siiversti cemetery as the Soviet infantry attacked across the ice on 13 February. The attack was repelled by the German and ethnic allied forces commanded by SS-Hauptsturmführer Günther Wanhöfer, and this allowed the 336th Grenadierregiment, supported by a small number of tanks, to reduce the bridgehead, but this was all that the Germans could manage, and the positions taken by the 336th Grenadierregiment during the day were retaken that night by units of the 2nd Shock Army, which was receiving a constant supply of reinforcements.
Govorov ordered the 2nd Shock Army to break through the German defence line to the north and south of Narva, advance the front some 32 miles (50 km) to the west and continue toward Rakvere. The artillery of the 2nd Shock army opened fire on all the German positions on 11 February. General Major (soon General Leytenant) Nikolai P. Simoniak’s XXX Guards Corps, an elite unit usually reserved for the task of breaching defence lines, joined the Soviet units attempting to seize Auvere station. The infantry of the guards formation widened the bridgehead to 6.2 miles (10 km), and the remnants of Generalleutnant Friedrich von Scotti’s 227th Division and Generalleuthant Walther Krause’s 170th Division retreated. General Major Ivan D. Romantsov ordered an air and artillery assault on Auvere during 13 February, and his 64th Guards Division was then able to take the village in a surprise attack. Some 545 yards (500 m) to the west of Auvere station, the 191st Guards Regiment crossed the railway 1.25 miles (2 km) from the road linking Narva and Tallinn Highway, which was the escape route for the Gruppe 'Sponheimer', but was then driven back by the 170th Division and the tanks of the 502nd schwere Panzerabteilung.
By the middle of February, the situation on the Narva front was little short of catastrophic so far as Heeresgruppe 'Nord' was concerned. The Leningrad Front had established bridgeheads both to the north and to the south of Narva, the closest of them only a few hundred yards from the vital road linking Narva and Tallinn. The Gruppe 'Sponheimer' (on 23 February redesignated as the Armeeabteilung 'Narwa') was in imminent danger of being cut off, and the road to the west was being held only by small infantry units of Generalmajor Heinrich Geerkens’s 9th Felddivision (L) and Generalleutnant Hermann von Wedel’s 10th Felddivision (L), supported by small number of Panther battle tanks every few hundred yards along the road. The German defenders tried to prevent direct observation of the road by placing spruce tree branches along it, but this did not prevent the Soviet artillery from keeping the road under constant bombardment. Under these circumstances, the confidence of the men of the Gruppe 'Sponheimer' that they could sustain the defence inevitably started to evaporate.
At this point Hitler ordered that SS-Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der Waffen-SS Franz Augsberger’s 20th Estnische SS-Freiwilligen Division be replaced on the Nevel front and redeployed as rapidly as possible to the Narva front. The arrival of the 1/45th SS-Freiwilligen-Grenadierregiment (estnisch Nr 1) of this division at Tartu coincided with the initial landing operation by the left flank of the Leningrad Front on the western shore of Lake Peipus, some 75 miles (120 km) to the south of Narva, where the 90th Division seized Piirissaar island in the middle of the lake on 12 February. The Estonian battalion was swiftly deployed into the Yershovo bridgehead on the eastern shore of Lake Peipus.
The 374th Regiment crossed Lake Peipus on 14 February, seized the coastal village of Meerapalu in a surprise attack, and established a beach-head.Other units of the 90th Division attacked across the lake but were destroyed by a force of 21 Junkers Ju 87 dive-bombers. During the morning of the following day, the 128th Division established another beach-head farther to the south at Jõepera. A battalion of the 44th Infanteriedivision. the Estonian battalion and a number of German warplanes cleared the Soviet forces from the lake’s western shore on the same day, Estonian sources estimating the Soviet casualties to be in the thousands. A battalion from East Prussia retook Piirissaar island on 17 February.
In an effort to break the last German and Estonian resistance simultaneously with the Meerapalu landing operation, Govorov ordered the 260th Independent Naval Infantry Brigade to make an amphibious landing near Narva in the German rear. The brigade was an elite unit trained specially for amphibious assault, and was delivered to the Narva front by 26 small naval vessels. The landing was to be made from the Gulf of Finland, landing several miles behind the German lines near the coastal town of Mereküla: the first company was to destroy the railway and Auvere station, the second to occupy the line of the railway to the east of Auvere and the third to cover the left flank and destroy the railway bridge to the east of Auvere. Another amphibious unit was then to land and reinforce the first. However, Estonian counter-intelligence had learned that as early as 1939 a Soviet amphibious operation was being prepared against Mereküla and, when constructing the 'Panther-Stellung' in 1944, the Germans emplaced coastal artillery in the battery built by Estonia specifically to defend against any such a landing.
The 517 naval troops began their operation on 14 February, landing directly in front of the German coastal artillery. The 23rd SS Panzergrenadierregiment 'Norge' and the local coast defence unit responded capably with the aid of three PzKpfw VI Tiger I heavy tanks, and after the 8th Army’s artillery near Auvere failed to begin its supporting fire at the agreed time, the German and Estonian forces destroyed the Soviet beach-head in 7.5 hours of fierce fighting.
In overall terms, the long period of static defence by the Leningrad and Volkhov Fronts had resulted in a declining standard of training for the fronts' staffs and troops, and the Soviet attacks became steadily more poorly co-ordinated and supported as the 'Leningrad-Novgorod Strategic Offensive Operation' continued. It can fairly be said, therefore, that Heeresgruppe ‘Nord’ owed its salvation to this and to the bitterness of the weather conditions and the difficulty of the terrain, which all combined to slow the pace of the Soviet advance.
On 14 February the Volkhov Front was disestablished and its formations reallocated to the Leningrad Front and 2nd Baltic Front, and by 1 March operations in the Baltic theatre ceased as both sides went over to the defensive.
The numbers of men and weapons deployed, and then their losses, have long been a matter of dispute, and different official and unofficial sources offer widely differing numbers.