Tallinn Evacuation Operation

The 'Tallinn Evacuation Operation' was the Soviet maritime evacuation of Tallinn with the object of removing the 190 ships of Vitse Admiral Vladimir F. Tributs’s Baltic Fleet, elements of the Soviet army and pro-Soviet Estonian civilians from the Baltic Fleet’s encircled main base of Tallinn in Soviet-occupied Estonia (27/31 August 1941).

At the start of 'Barbarossa' on 22 June 1941, German troops were poised to sweep across the border into the USSR at dawn, and just before that time German artillery started to shell NKVD (People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs) and Soviet army headquarters and barracks as revealed by intelligence sources and aerial reconnaissance. Heavy air raids were launched against airfields, marshalling yards and ports as far afield as Kronshtadt near Leningrad, Ismail in Bessarabia and Sevastopol in Crimea. Between 03.00 and 03.30 the frontier was crossed at numerous places from the Baltic to Hungary, sometimes in the face of a spirited defence by NKVD border guard formations and units, which manned a host of strongpoints. Large numbers of saboteurs and diversionists, of whom many were of Lithuanian and Ukrainian origins, crossed the border with the German troops to undertake tasks such as cutting telephone lines, destroying signal centres and laying ambushes on roads and tracks.

On the Soviet side of the frontier the scene was monumentally confused. More than 60 airfields in the border districts had been bombed repeatedly and intensively, and before 12.00 the Luftwaffe claimed to have destroyed 800 Soviet aircraft for the loss of a mere 10 German machines. The Soviet divisions along the frontier were positioned some way from any defensive positions and had been engaged in normal peacetime duties: some commanders were absent, and many divisional artillery regiments and signal battalions had been detached to firing camps or arms centres to carry out specialised arms training. German aircraft had immediately won undisputed air superiority and made Soviet road movements almost impossible, while the control and communication system in the forward areas broke down completely, paralysing the Soviet formations there. Resistance was therefore both unco-ordinated and insignificant. The Politburo leadership, dazed by events and still hoping to stop the war even as it was starting, at 07.15 issued a directive ordering the Soviet army not to enter German territory and to limit its air activity to a 90-mile (145-km) into German territory. Meanwhile it kept open the radio link with the German foreign ministry and requested Japan to mediate. By the afternoon the Kremlin and the Soviet higher military headquarters were already wholly divorced from the reality of the situation, a situation for which the breakdown in signal communications was primarily responsible. Commanders lost touch with their troops and with each other, and many formations and units became leaderless. All too often, Soviet generals were both unwilling and afraid to admit to their superiors that the true situation was unknown to them and thus beyond their control, so that within hours of the war’s start the military districts and the defence ministry were already in the position in which they not only imagined that they understood the true situation, but also believed that the counter-offensives which they had ordered were in fact taking place. By 22.00 the military position was said to be regarded by the general staff in Moscow as being relatively favourable, with 'the enemy thrown back'. A number of retaliatory bombing raids were ordered against Ploieşti, Bucharest, Warsaw and Danzig, but as they flew without fighter escorts, the bombers achieved little at the cost of heavy casualties.

In the first days of the 'Barbarossa' campaign, there was an immediate reorganisation of the Soviet high command and the Soviet army to bring them onto a war footing. Marshal Sovetskogo Soyuza Semyon K. Timoshenko, formerly the defence minister, was appointed temporarily to the post of commander-in-chief. General Leytenant Markian M. Popov’s Leningrad Military District became the North Front; General Polkovnik Fyedor I. Kuznetsov’s Baltic Military District, comprising General Major Piotr P. Sobennikov’s 8th Army and General Leytenant Vasili I. Morozov’s 11th Army, took to the field as North-West Front; General Polkovnik Dmitri G. Pavlov’s West Military District, comprising General Leytenant Vasili I. Kuznetsov’s 3rd Army, General Major Konstantin D. Golubev’s 10th Army and General Major Aleksandr A. Korobkov’s 4th Army in Belorussia to the north of the Pripyet Marshes, became General Dmitri G. Pavlov’s West Front; General Polkovnik Mikhail P. Kirponos’s Kiev Military District, comprising General Major Mikhail I. Potapov’s 5th Army, General Leytenant Filipp I. Golikov’s 6th Army, General Leytenant Fyedor Ya. Kostenko’s 26th Army and General Major Pavel G. Ponedelin’s 12th Army, became the South-West Front. General Leytenant Nikandr Ye. Chibisov’s Odessa Military District was re-formed as the 9th Army, which later became part of General Ivan V. Tyulenev’s newly formed South Front covering Bessarabia. The brunt of the German invasion was to be borne by the North-West Front, the West Front and the South-Wes Front.

In the Baltic area, Generalfeldmarschall Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb’s Heeresgruppe 'Nord' had been allocated the task of destroying the Soviet forces in the Baltic states and of joining with the Finns with the object of taking Leningrad after a 500-mile (805-km) advance. von Leeb’s army group comprised Generaloberst Georg von Küchler’s 18th Army on the German left with the task of advancing northward through the Baltic states before turning to close on Leningrad from the west, and Generaloberst Ernst Busch’s 16th Army on the right with the task of advancing into Russia, passing to the south of Lakes Pskov and Peipus and reaching Leningrad from the south-west. These two formations totalled 20 infantry divisions of which one was held in army group reserve; and three security divisions were later added. In addition, the army group had Generaloberst Erich Hoepner’s 4th Panzergruppe with two Panzer corps in the form of General Georg-Hans Reinhardt’s XLI Corps (mot.) and General Erich von Manstein’s LVI Corps (mot.), with three Panzer divisions and three motorised infantry divisions. Heeresgruppe 'Nord' was supported by Generaloberst Alfred Keller’s Luftflotte I with about 400 aircraft. of which most were in the hands of General Wolfram Freiherr von Richthofen’s VIII Fliegerkorps.

In the Baltic states the terrain was similar to that of East Prussia as it was flat with occasional uplands, partially covered by thick forest, sandy moorland and a plethora of lakes and swamps. Only the coastal region was fertile pasture land, and farther to the north-east the terrain became more desolate and heavily wooded. There were few good roads, most of them narrow and in poor condition, and all rendered unusable in the summer as a result of the region’s frequent and heavy rain. Two rivers, flowing to the west into the Baltic Sea, lay athwart the German axis of advance. The first of these was the Niemen river lying about 40 miles (65 km) beyond the German start line, except in its lower reaches where it entered East Prussia as the Memel river. The second and more formidable obstacle was the West Dvina (Daugava) rover running through Vitebsk to Riga, about 200 miles (320 km) from the East Prussian frontier. The swift seizure of this river would prevent its use by the Soviets as the core of an effective defence line and cut off the Soviet formations to its south.

The Soviet forward dispositions were already well known to the Germans. Kuznetsov, commander of the Baltic Military District, which on the outbreak of war became North-West Front, had only two armies, and these were believed to be fairly close to the frontier, with Sobennikov’s 8th Army on the right nearer the coast and Morozov’s 11th Army on the left. These armies were correctly believed to have a strength of about 20 divisions and two mechanised corps, but this total included a number of divisions of the previous Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian armies bundled into the Soviet Army only on year earlier. The Germans believed that these would in all probability not give a good account of themselves. von Leeb’s frontage of attack was comparatively narrow and fell on the whole of the 8th Army but on only a part of the 11th Army as it was only the southern wing of this latter formation which was included in the assault boundaries of the neighbouring Heeresgruppe 'Mitte'. von Leeb intended that the 4th Panzergruppe should make the main attack along the centreline of his army group, with the 18th Army on its left and the 16th Army on its right. The 4th Panzergruppe was deployed with the LVI Corps (mot.) on the right, and this, attacking on a very narrow front, had only one useful road for its three divisions. von Manstein had to move 200 miles (320 km) directly to the Dvina river at Daugavpils (Dünaburg in German). The XLI Corps (mot.) had two Panzer divisions as against the LVI Corps's one, and was to advance on the left on a much broader front ready to engage the III ans XII Mechanised Corps, which German intelligence believed to be on the left flank, before advancing on the Dvina river near Krustpils (Jacobstadt in German).

The tactical grouping of the German formations was not ideal. The 4th Panzergruppe had only two Panzer corps, and both of these were deployed forward side-by-side with nothing in reserve, and after the Dvina river was reached the movement of one corps would become dependent on the progress of the other. The 16th Army and 18th Army were to be fully committed side-by-side, and von Leeb had just one infantry division in army group reserve. Of the two infantry armies to the right and left of the 4th Panzergruppe, the latter was to clear the coastal area while the former was to take Kovno (Kaunas in German) and then advance on Daugavpils.

The 4th Panzergruppe was launched from the 18th Army's area in the narrow strip of land between the lower part of the Memel river and the border, the Panzer divisions entering the bridgehead on the night of 21 June by the bridge at Tilsit and a pair of pontoon bridges extended across the river after the fall of night. Infantry formations of the 18th Army had been allotted to aid the two Panzer corps' progress through the heavily wooded area on the frontier, and at 03.05 infantry and tanks, supported by the fire of about 600 pieces of artillery, crossed the frontier and plunged down the forest tracks. Soviet resistance was almost negligible but increased later in the day, particularly in the forested areas, although the fighting was sporadic and took the form of actions by small groups rather than of a co-ordinated defence. The weather was good, yet the availability of only bad roads and narrow sandy tracks winding through forested ravines and gullies limited the speed of the German progress. On the Soviet side of the front line, some 80,000 non-Baltic Soviet citizens, military families, airfield- and port-construction workers, police and administrators involved in the 'Sovietisation' and 'Russification' of the new territories, flooded the few roads back to the USSR, impeding the movement of Soviet reserves. The refugees suffered heavily under German air attack, and were also savaged by Lithuanian and Latvian armed bands.

By the morning of 23 June the 18th Army's infantry near the Baltic coast had already marched more than 40 miles (65 km) through Lithuania and had entered Latvia. Nearer the right flank, the LVI Corps (mot.) had advanced boldly and cut the main road linking Daugavpils and Kaunas some 80 miles (130 km) to the south of the Dvina river, and along this road small numbers of tank units and artillery batteries put up a stubborn defence to cover the Soviet withdrawal, losing about 70 tanks and many pieces of artillery before von Manstein broke off the action on 26 June a short distance from the river. Two captured Soviet lorries loaded with German and Lithuanian men of the Abwehr-trained Lehr-Regiment 'Brandenburg', disguised as wounded Soviet soldiers, were sent forward to join the columns of Soviet transport crossing the bridge at Daugavpils. As this party reached the Dvina river, its men drove away the Soviet guards and demolition parties, and held the crossing until the arrival of the LVI Corps (mot.), part of which crossed the river and established a bridgehead to the north of the town, thereby securing the first crossing over the Dvina river.

The first major two-day tank battle of the campaign, the Battle of Raseiniai (otherwise the 'Kaunas Counterattack Offensive') within the 'Baltic Border Defensive Operation', began on the evening of 23 June. The XLI Corps (mot.), to the LVI Corps (mot.)'s left, was engaged in heavy fighting at the small town of Raseiniai by about 300 Soviet tanks of three tank divisions of the III and XII Mechanised Corps supported by cavalry and guns.

On 22 June, the North-West Front had two mechanised corps, in the form of General Major Aleksei V. Kurkin’s III Mechanised Corps with 31,975 men and between 669 and 672 BT-7 and T-26 tanks, and General Major Nikolai M. Shestopalov with 28,832 men and between 730 and 749 BT-7 and T-26 tanks.

The 4th Panzergruppe was advancing with the object of crossing the Niemen and Daugava rivers. German bombers had destroyed many of the Soviet signals and communications centres, naval bases and airfields between Riga and Kronshtadt. Siauliai, Vilnius and Kaunas were also bombed. Soviet aircraft had been on one-hour alert, but were held on their airfields after the first wave of German bombers had passed.

At 09.30 on 22 June, Kuznetsov ordered the III and XII Mechanised Corps to move into their planned counterattack positions, from which he intended them in flanking attacks on the 4th Panzergruppe, which had broken through to the Dubysa river. By 12.00, the Soviet divisions began to fall back and the German columns then began to swing towards Raseiniai, where Kuznetsov was concentrating his armoured strength for a major counterattack on the following day. By the evening, Soviet formations had fallen back to the Dubysa river, and to the north-west of Kaunas, forward elements of the LVI Corps (mot.) reached the Dubysa river and seized the vital Ariogala road viaduct across it.

By the end of 22 June, the German armoured spearheads over the Niemen river had penetrated 50 miles (80 km), and on the next day Kuznetsov committed his armoured forces to battle. Near Raseiniai, the XLI Corps (mot.) was counterattacked by the two Soviet mechanised corps. The concentration of Soviet armour was detected by the Luftwaffe, which immediately attacked tank columns of the XII Mechanised Corps to the south-west of Siauliai. No Soviet fighters appeared to fight off the German aircraft, and the 23rd Tank Division took especially heavy losses as Junkers Ju 88 medium bombers swept in to attack at low level, setting alight some 40 vehicles, including tanks and trucks.

The German forces encountered for the first time a unit equipped with KV heavy tanks. On 23 June, Oberstleutnant Erich Freiherr von Seckendorff’s Kampfgruppe 'von Seckendorff' of Generalleutnant Wilhelm Ritter von Thoma’s 6th Panzerdivision, comprising the 114th Panzergrenadierregiment, the 57th Aufklärungsabteilung, one company of the 41st Panzerjägerabteilung and the 6th Radfahrabteilung was overrun by General Major Yegor N. Soliankin’s 2nd Tank Division of the III Mechanised Corps near Skaudvilė. This provided striking evidence that the PzKpfw 35(t) tanks and the anti-tank weapons currently operated by the Germans were ineffective against the Soviet heavy tanks, some of which were out of ammunition but closed in and destroyed German antitank guns by driving over them. The Germans fired at the tracks of the KV heavy tanks, and also bombarded them with artillery, anti-aircraft guns and sticky bombs.

The Battle of Raseiniai cost the Soviets a total of 704 armoured fighting vehicles, while the 6th Panzerdivision lost about 160 tanks, which represented some two-thirds of its armoured strength.

In the south, by 23 June Morozov had ordered the units falling back to the old fortress town of Kaunas to continue back to Jonava some 31 miles (50 km) to the north-east. By the evening of 25 June, the 8th Army was falling back toward Riga and the 11th Army toward Vilnyus and the Desna river, thus creating a gap in the Soviet front from Ukmergė to Daugavpils. By 26 June, Generalleutnant Friedrich Kirchner’s 1st Panzerdivision and Generalleutnant Otto-Ernst Ottenbacher’s 36th Division (mot.) of the XLI Corps (mot.), together with the following infantry divisions, had cut through the rear of the Soviet mechanised corps and linked. The vehicles of the III Mechanised Corps had run out of fuel and the 2nd Tank Division was encircled and almost wholly destroyed. In the encirclement, Soliankin was killed in action. The 5th Tank Division and 84th Motorised Division were severely depleted as a result of their losses in vehicles and men. The XII Mechanised Corps managed to extricate itself from the trap but was very short of fuel and ammunition. The Baltic Fleet had been withdrawn from its bases at Liepaja, Ventspils and Riga by 26 June and the LVI Corps (mot.) made a dash for the Daugava river and, in a remarkable coup, seized bridges near Daugava.

After the battle, the leading formations of the LVI Corps (mot.) began to enlarge the bridgehead after the seizure of the Dvina river bridges and the fall of Dvinsk. On 25 June, Timoshenko ordered Kuznetsov to organise a defence of the Daugava river by deploying the 8th Army on its right bank between Riga and Livani while the 11th Army defended the Livani- Kraslava sector. Kuznetsov also used Berzarin’s 27th Army, moving troops from Hiiumaa and Saaremaa islands (Dagö and Ösel in German) and Riga to Daugavpils. At the same time the Stavka released General Major Dmitri D. Lelyushenko’s XXI Mechanised Corps, with 98 tanks and 129 pieces of artillery, from the Moscow Military District to co-operate with the 27th Army.

At 05.00 on 28 June, Lelyushenko attempted to destroy the German bridgehead near Daugavpils, and von Manstein halted his corps on the Dvina but attacked the next day, striking along the road linking Daugavpils and Ostrov. At Riga on the afternoon of 29 June, the Germans crossed the railway bridge over the Dvina. On 30 June, Soviet troops withdrew from the right bank of the river and by 1 July were retreating northward into Estonia. Instead of being instructed to rush forward to seize Leningrad, the Panzer divisions were instead ordered to wait for infantry reinforcements, which took almost a week.

Kuznetsov was dismissed by Timoshenko and Sobennikov assumed command of the the front on 4 July. On 29 June, Timoshenko ordered that if the North-West Front had to withdraw from the Daugava river, the line of the Velikaya river was to be held and every effort made to create a defensive line along this river line. This line fell rapidly on 8 July, with rail and road bridges taken intact by the Germans, and Pskov fell on the evening of 9 July. The 11th Army was ordered to move to Dno but the collapse of the North-West Front on the Velikaya river and the German descent on Luga were serious defeats, forcing the 8th Army back toward the Gulf of Finland. The German pause had given time for more troops to be rushed to the imminent defence of Leningrad.

In the aftermath of the Battle of Raseiniai, the XLI Corps (mot.) followed up, moving over the marshy ground on a broad front towards Krustpils and nearby Lievenhof on the Dvina river. Meanwhile the marching infantry of the 18th Army and 16th Army continued to make good progress, taking Kaunas and numerous airfields and ports, and for the most part being welcomed by the local population. Some serious fighting occurred at the port of Liepaja (Libau in German) where the Soviet garrison fought with great determination before attempting to break out from the ring which Generalleutnant Kurt Herzog’s 291st Division had thrown round the city. In Riga, Oberst Otto Lasch’s 43rd Infanterieregiment suffered very heavy losses: four years later, the same Lasch was the final German defender of Königsberg in 1945. Elsewhere the Soviet resistance was starting to stiffen, but was still hampered by a lack of co-ordination, and the worst threat faced by the Germans was that posed by the bands of armed troops who had taken to the woods.

From the Soviet side, the battle had gone badly. Nonetheless, Sobennikov’s 8th Army had suffered heavy matériel as well as manpower losses, but was still capable of an orderly retreat from Riga. Morozov’s 11th Army astride Heeresgruppe 'Nord''s eastern wing had come under heavy attack from both this army group and Heeresgruppe 'Mitte', and fell back so rapidly that it left a gap between the 8th Army and the flanking 3rd Army on the northern wing of the West Front. Although by 28 June more than 400 armoured fighting vehicles, 200 pieces of artillery, several hundreds of aircraft and a number of warships had fallen into von Leeb’s hands, only 6,000 prisoners had been claimed by Heeresgruppe 'Nord'.

Soviet pre-war strategy had been posited on the concept that the Germans would be checked while the reserve group of armies was moved forward to aid the troops fighting on the borders. After the first few days of fighting the Soviet high command had come to the correct conclusion that the reserve armies' intervention could not take place near the frontier, and part of the reserves were used to attempt the stabilisation of the position and extricate the fighting troops. On 25 June Kuznetsov was still intent on holding the line of the Dvina river and was given Berzarin’s 27th Army from the reserve to assist him in delaying the advance of Heeresgruppe 'Nord'. The 27th Army was forward in great haste to plug the gap left by the retreat of the 11th Army and, together with Lelyushenko’s XXI Mechanised Corps that had just arrived from Opochka, halt the progress of the 4th Panzergruppe from the Daugavpils area. Lelyushenko’s corps, which totalled no more than some 70 tanks, began to counterattack the LVI Corps (mot.)'s bridgehead, where von Manstein was halted and awaiting further orders.

On 27 June Hitler, elated by von Manstein’s rapid success in seizing the Daugavpils crossing, first began to involve himself in the battle’s tactical elements. Using Generalfeldmarschall Wilhelm Keitel, the chief-of-staff of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht, as his little more than his telephonist, he instructed Generaloberst Franz Halder, the chief-of-staff of the Oberkommando des Heeres, to alter the XLI Corps (mot.)'s axis of advance and push all of its armoured formations across the Dvina river behind von Manstein’s corps. To this order he added more precise instructions as to how the Krustpils crossing was to be seized for the use of the infantry armies.

From this period on, the tactical handling of the German forces was bedevilled by uncertainty at all levels and by frequent change and interference from above. The task given to von Leeb, according to Hitler’s Führerweisung Nr 21, was to destroy the Soviet forces in the Baltic area and then to switch to the occupation of Leningrad. The Oberkommando des Heeres’s directive, however, was un specific about to the relative priorities of the two tasks, and in this lay the seed of the subsequent dissension and recrimination. On 27 June Hoepner flew to the Dvina river bridgehead near Daugavpils to see von Manstein, who subsequently said that he was surprised that the commander of the 4th Panzergruppe seemed to be uninformed as to what was to happen next. Four days later von Leeb arrived at Utena, the tactical headquarters of the 4th Panzergruppe, to give Hoepner the outline of his plans. Although very competent, von Leeb was, like many other senior German generals, without a wide understanding of the characteristics or capabilities of tank formations. Hoepner on the other hand was an outspoken, bold, somewhat impetuous cavalry officer, and a capable leader of armoured forces. Because of their personalities and military backgrounds, there were immediate differences of opinion about both the objectives and the methods by which these objectives might be attained, and von Leeb was soon caught between Hoepner, whose tactical ideas were sound but who was prone to rashness, and Hitler’s worries, which were telephoned or telegraphed on a daily basis from the Oberkommando des Heeres in East Prussia.

von Leeb proposed that the 16th Army should seal off the Baltic States from Russia while the 4th Panzergruppe covered the army group’s exposed eastern flank and form what von Leeb described as a cornerstone, by moving to the north-east in the direction of Lake Ilmen through an area devoid of roads and covered by swamp and forest. Hoepner, dismayed at this senseless use of his armour, objected that von Küchler’s and Busch’s infantry armies would not be effective for another 14 days as many of their infantry divisions were still extended all through the Baltic states, and he protested that the tank thrusts should be made between Lakes Peipus and Ilmen on the direct route to Leningrad.

Hoepner was also surprised that there could be any doubt as to the next objective. von Leeb then ordered a compromise, which satisfied neither one plan nor the other, in that von Manstein’s LVI Corps (mot.) was to drive on Novorzhev in the direction of Lake Ilmen, while Reinhardt’s XLI Corps (mot.) was to move to Ostrov in the direction of Leningrad. The next day an altogether dissatisfied Hoepner sent his Oberkommando des Heeres liaison officer to Halder with the task of informing the latter of the differences of opinion which had arisen about the objectives of further operations. All that emerged from this meeting was the revelation that Halder, von Lech and Hoepner appeared to be in doubt about the priorities of the various aims, and that there existed wholly opposed views on the methods by which the objectives were to be secured. There, for the moment, the matter was left pending Hitler’s clarification of his priorities. Five days later Generalfeldmarschall Walther von Brauchitsch, the commander-in-chief of the German army, returned from a visit to Heeresgruppe 'Nord' believing that all was in order, but it was 9 July before the Oberkommando des Heeres issued firm orders.

On 3 July the heavy rain which had recently limited the volume of air support provided to the ground forces was followed by better weather, and the advance of the XLI Corps (mot.) from Krustpils started to accelerate once more against a relatively weak Soviet resistance along the main routes. Ostrov fell to the Germans on 4 July. The new commander of the North-West Front, Sobennikov, in accordance with the orders he received on 29 June, was attempting to create a new defence line on the Velikaya river, to the south of Lake Peipus, using Chernyavsky’s I Mechanised Corps and a further two reserve infantry corps allotted to him by the high command, but this did not prevent the XLI Corps (mot.) from taking Pskov on Lake Peipus during 8 July in the face of determined resistance by Soviet armour. Soviet tank losses continued to run at a high rate, and included a train-load of tanks, being delivered straight from the factory, captured by the Germans at Pskov. Meanwhile farther to the right von Manstein’s LXI Corps (mot.) moved out of its bridgehead at Daugavpils and pushed to the east the hastily assembled 27th Army and XXI Mechanised Corps. In accordance with von Leeb’s orders, von Manstein advanced to the north-east in the direction of Opochka and Novorzhev along narrow tracks through swamp and forest, eventually halting only when the tracks ended or were found impassable as a result of jams of abandoned Soviet tanks, guns and vehicles. An attempt to build corduroy log roads through the marshes was abandoned, and Hoepner then had to pull back the LVI Corps (mot.) from was was now seen to be an illusory axis and speed it northward to Ostrov along the route used by the XLI Corps (mot.). Lake Ilmen remained objective, however, and the LVI Corps (mot.), with just single Panzer and motorised divisions, was despatched to the east once again from Ostrov toward Novgorod and Chudovo into yet more swamp and forest.

On 7 July, Hoepner was still intent on a bold armoured stroke on Leningrad using von Manstein’s [r]LVI Corps (mot.) approaching from the east and Reinhardt’s XLI Corps (mot.) approaching directly through Luga. von Brauchitsch approved Hoepner’s plan. The XLI Corps (mot.)'s axis through Luga lay along a single main road running through marsh and forest and with undergrowth so dense that visibility was restricted to a few yards and it was impossible to get vehicles off the roads. The advance started on 10 July against Soviet rearguard elements but progress was less than 7 miles (11 km) a day as each Soviet strongpoint and each tank covering each bend in the road had to be destroyed in a succession of delays. The German advance suffered severely from lack of infantry, and the close nature of the country prevented them from bringing their superior armoured mobility and firepower into play. Two days later Hoepner and Reinhardt, with von Leeb’s agreement, therefore decided to terminate the XLI Corps (mot.)'s thrust on the Luga axis and to reposition it to the north along the east coast of Lake Peipus to the Narva river, and then attack Leningrad from the west over the more open country along the southern shore of the Gulf of Finland.

When the XLI Corps (mot.) was moved to the north, the axes of the two Panzer corps became separated by more than 100 miles (160 km) of difficult wooded swamps. These were impenetrable for armoured vehicles except along one or two roads and tracks, and there was no longer any question of mutual support between the two corps. The German infantry divisions were still many miles behind the armoured formations. von Manstein’s corps, moving slowly in the direction of Dno and Lake Ilmen, was dangerously exposed, with an unprotected right flank facing a strengthening grouping of newly arrived Soviet formations to the south of Staraya Russa and Lake Ilmen.

In his East Prussian headquarters, Hitler kept in close touch with the progress of operations and occupied himself with details which were properly the concern of his subordinates. Hoepner’s movement toward Leningrad had been noted, and at 12.00 on 11 July Keitel telephoned Halder with the daily list of Hitler’s worries in which he expressed anxiety that Hoepner might suddenly pounce toward to Leningrad and lose touch with the infantry armies. This particular worry was well founded because such was indeed Hoepner’s plan as approved by von Brauchitsch four days earlier. On 14 July, Halder noted with disapproval the size of the gap which had appeared between von Manstein’s and Reinhardt’s corps. This had not escaped the notice of Hitler, who had worked himself into a state of great anxiety, especially as von Manstein’s corps had already come under attack from elements of Morozov’s 11th Army on his right flank, and for a time was completely isolated between Dno and Lake Ilmen. Heeresgruppe 'Nord' was therefore instructed to stop Reinhardt’s movement toward Leningrad. Generalleutnant Kurt Brennecke, Heeresgruppe 'Nord''s chief-of-staff, explained to Halder’s satisfaction that it was only the nature of the terrain which had forced the change of the XLI Corps (mot.)'s axis from Luga to Lake Peipus, but Halder was not prepared to enter into another argument with Hitler, particularly as during the previous night von Brauchitsch been subjected to a long and ill-tempered examination by Hitler as to the conduct of operations in this sector. Brennecke was therefore instructed by Halder to commit his reasons to a paper that would be placed before Hitler.

The forced marches of the 18th Army and 16th Army had been beset by a host of difficulties. As a result of the tapered shape of European Russia, the further the German advance made to the east, the wider the front became, and in consequence the axes of the moving infantry divisions diverged so far that gaps appeared between formations. Moreover, whereas Heeresgruppe 'Nord' was moving to the north-east toward Leningrad, the neighbouring Heeresgruppe 'Mitte' was advancing straight to the east toward Smolensk, so it was becoming impossible for the two army groups' flanks to keep in touch with each other. The 18th Army on the left of Heeresgruppe 'Nord' totalled eight infantry divisions, and had to secure the ports and the many offshore island groups, clear the Baltic states and, at the same time, provide infantry support to the left flank of the 4th Panzergruppe. von Leeb was subjected to frequent interference from Hitler through the Oberkommando des Heeres, requiring him to move more divisions from the 18th Army to the west, and therefore farther from the 4th Panzergruppe, in order to hasten the clearing of the Baltic ports. Meanwhile in front of von Küchler’s 18th Army, the 8th Army commanded since 30 June by General Leytenant Fyedor S. Ivanov, was still hugging the coast as withdrew to the north in order to establish a defensive line from Parnu to Tartu in the northern part of Estonia with the Gulf of Riga on its right flank and Lake Peipus on its left flank. Despite the threat to Leningrad and the danger that its troops in Estonia might be cut off, the Soviet high command reinforced the 8th Army with the addition of a third infantry corps. This bought more time for the strengthening of Leningrad’s defence, because by this time Hitler had no intention of attacking that city until the Baltic states had been cleared of all Soviet troops. Morozov’s 11th Army and Berzarin’s 27th Army, now separated from the 8th Army by Lake Peipus, withdrew to the north-east.

On the right flank of Heeresgruppe 'Nord', the problem of over-extended frontages and lack of troops was aggravated still more, especially as since a new formation, General Leytenant Filipp A. Ershakov’s 22nd Army, appeared in the area to the west of Nevel. As the battle developed, Hitler insisted not only that Heeresgruppe 'Nord' kept close contact with Heeresgruppe 'Mitte' but also that Busch’s 16th Army (12 infantry divisions) should be so strong on the right of its southern flank that it could support the adjacent Heeresgruppe 'Mitte'. For this reason he ordered infantry formations to be moved away from the centre of Heeresgruppe 'Nord' to the south-east flank in Belorussia and General Albrecht Schubert’s XXIII Corps was actually transferred from the 16th Army to Heeresgruppe 'Mitte'. Thus almost three-fifths of Busch’s strength was committed to this southern flank. This caused the appearance of a major gap to the south of Lake Ilmen in the centre of von Leeb’s front, so the flanks of the 4th Panzergruppe were left virtually unsupported and exposed to the counter-probing of Morozov’s 11th Army, Berzarin’s 27th Army and later Kachanov’s 34th Army.

A fundamental weakness in Hitler’s thinking was his failure both to allotting and then maintaining priorities: he wished everything to be done, and then only with inadequate resources. Hoepner’s armoured thrust in the centre was therefore unable to move forward either to seal off the Baltic states or to reach Leningrad for lack of infantry support, which, at Hitler’s insistence, had been diverted to the far flanks, in the west to the Baltic coast and in the east into the Belorussian forests.

The Soviet forces' fighting ability had not been put seriously to the test of realistic combat during the first weeks of the Baltic campaign. The complete and shocking surprise of the invasion had caused a partial collapse of Soviet formations, causing many troops to flee or retreat with a readiness and speed far greater than was strictly necessary. When the shock had passed, the stragglers emerged from the woods to attack German supply columns, ambulances and rear installations. Some of these attacks were made by organised bodies of men, and even tanks were used on occasions. Because of the hostility of the local Baltic population, this Soviet activity was not prolonged. Elsewhere stragglers and defeated Soviet units retreated, were rallied, re-formed and committed to battle once again. Although in general they did not fight well, sometimes their lack of initiative and skill was offset by their display of obstinacy and toughness, which surprised all but those German officers who had served on the Eastern Front in World War I. Soviet troops fought best in those areas where they were not threatened by tanks or assault guns and this was usually in the forest and swamp areas, but even there the Soviet soldier revealed himself to be unpredictable. German prisoners and wounded falling into Soviet hands were commonly killed, sometimes in the most brutal and appalling fashion.

The Germans were apt to condemn the Soviets as subhuman, bestial and treacherous, but this judgement was not entirely true. After the first few days of fighting, all commissars and Jews knew the fate in store for them if they fell into German hands, and determined that neither they nor their comrades should surrender. It was impressed on all that every Soviet soldier captured by the Germans would probably be tortured and undoubtedly be killed. Atrocity stories were circulated, many but not all of them fabrications. The average Soviet soldier believed what he was told and his emotions were an easy target for the race-hatred preached by the commissar. Many of the troops were primitive and some were barbaric, and chivalry or the niceties of established rules of war meant nothing to them. They therefore decided in revenge to repay the German in what they imagined to be his own treatment. For this the Germans' senseless attitude of race was partly to blame.

Before battle there was always an intensification of Soviet political indoctrination, and the effect of this was usually shown in the troops' strange behaviour on the battlefield. The Soviet soldier, often fearful and in action for the first time, remained at his post until the Germans' closest approach. Political indoctrination and a sense of duty enabled him to shoot down the first German to show himself, after which his courage often deserted him and he stood up and surrendered. Alternatively, he lost his nerve before he could fire the first shot and surrendered on the spot, only to be filled with immediate remorse at having failed in his duty, or with fear for the consequences to his family persuaded him to pick up his weapon and shoot any 'Fascist' in the back. Sometimes from his cover in the undergrowth he shot down an approaching German and then ran to the rear, where he repeated the performance. Whatever the sequence of the shooting, such tactics caused the Germans mounting casualties and great delays, particularly in closely wooded areas. The temper, even of those German troops who would normally conduct themselves fairly, was not improved by what came to be seen as Soviet cunning and treachery, and, as his comrades fell about him, there was always the danger that the infuriated German soldier might use his bayonet on a surrendering Soviet solder rather than risk a bullet in the back. The occurrence of such episodes reinforced the determination of other Soviet soldiers to fight to the end.

By the last week in July, the Soviet position in the Baltic looked very serious, especially as the Finns had begun to exert pressure on the North Front in the areas to the east and west of Lake Ladoga. The North Front comprised Pshennikov’s 23rd Army to the north of Leningrad on the Karelian isthmus and Gorelenko’s 7th Army between Lakes Ladoga and Onega. Both of these armies were driven back about 80 miles (130 km) in the first six weeks of the war.

By a Soviet directive of 29 June, the gravest measures were announced against cowards and those who spread rumours or caused panic. It was ordered that all civilian offenders should be handed over to military courts for trial and punishment. Political discipline was tightened and the powers of commissars were increased to the level of those enjoyed by military commanders. The loss of weapons became a most serious offence. Special field general courts-martial, consisting of military and NKVD officers and commissars, were set up on the withdrawal routes throughout the rear areas to deliver summary justice of offenders. Although it was impossible to take disciplinary action against the hordes of men retreating without orders, an attempt was made to locate officers and commissars, and also any soldier without his personal arms. Particular suspicion was attached to any soldier without tunic and papers, because this often denoted a panic-stricken commissar who, threatened by capture, had rid himself of the evidence provided by the star stitched on the sleeve.

By 10 July Stalin, at the head of the new State Committee for Defence, had assumed overall command in place of Timoshenko, and there was more high-command reorganisation when three new theatres were established. The first was North-Western Theatre, under Marshal Sovetskogo Soyuza Kliment Ye. Voroshilov with Andrei A. Zhdanov as the political member of its military council: this theatre comprised both Popov’s North Front and Sobennikov’s North-West Front together with the Baltic Fleet and Northern Fleet. The second was the Western Theatre under Timoshenko with Nikolai A. Bulganin as its political member: this theatre comprised only the West Front and the Pinsk Flotilla. The third was the South-Western Theatre under Marshal Sovetskogo Soyuza Semyon M. Budyonny with Nikita S. Khrushchev as its political member: this theatre comprised General Polkovnik Mikhail P. Kirponos’s South-West Front, Tyulenev’s South Front and Vitse Admiral Filipp S. Oktyabrsky’s Black Sea Fleet. At the same time, the new post of commander-in-chief of the air forces was created to supervise and centralise the reorganisation of the badly shattered air arm, and this position was given to General Leytenant Pavel F. Zhigarev. As there were great problems in locating adequate numbers of trained staff officers, corps headquarters were eliminated from army and air force channels of command so that their staffs could be redeployed: divisions them came directly under army headquarters, and the corps was reintroduced only later in the war.

On 10 July Popov’s North Front assumed overall responsibility for the defence of the approaches to Leningrad from the south, and manned all the defences along the line of the Luga river. The North-West Front with the 11th Army and the 27th Army fell back to the east to the area of Lake Ilmen, and the 8th Army remained in northern Estonia. The North-West Front had been heavily defeated in the Baltic. Despite this, though, even by the end of the 'Barbarossa' campaign’s third week, Heeresgruppe 'Nord' had already failed to complete its task despite its impressive performance in the rapid seizure of most of the Baltic States. In this time the 4th Panzergruppe had advanced some 430 miles (690 lm) in the face of many difficulties and was now a mere 80 miles (130 km) from Leningrad. The 16th Army and the 18th Army had cleared most of the Baltic states but had nonetheless failed to encircle or destroy the 8th Army and the 11th Army, and had not effected any junction with the Finnish forces.

The campaign began well for the Germans with the successful tank Battle at Raseiniai and the capture of the main crossing places over the Daugava river by the 4th Panzergruppe. The German infantry had already been left too far in the wake of the armoured forces, however, and in broken and heavily wooded country it was impossible for an armoured force to prevent the withdrawal of the Soviet forces to the north of the Dvina river. The seizure of the crossing places did no more than compel the retreating Soviet forces to abandon their vehicles and heavy equipment. Nor did the 4th Panzergruppe's seizure of Pskov and Ostrov, the capture of the line of the Velikaya river, together with the old Soviet frontier defences, have greater success in cutting off the Soviet forces in the the Baltic states. Only infantry could have pinned the Soviet forces and, given the closely wooded country, considerably larger numbers of German infantry divisions would have been required than were actually available. For this reason the larger part of the 8th Army, 11th Army and 27th Army escaped.

On 10 July the North-West Front had lost none of its formations and could still call on a total of 30 divisions: five of these were complete and up to strength, although many of the others had suffered so grievously in equipment losses and stragglers that the Soviet high command estimated that the superiority of Heeresgruppe 'Nord' on this day at 2/1 in infantry, 4/1 in artillery, but little or no advantage in tank numbers. Yet the German strength was diminished by the fact that its formations were still very widely dispersed, many of them at the end of a 400-mile (650-km) line of communication and slowed by the need to operate very difficult terrain. On the other hand, the North-West Front had fallen back on a military and industrial base with short and secure lines of communication. For these reasons the relative strengths in front of Leningrad were more favourable to the USSR than mere figures suggest. In the circumstances, the North-West Front had done well to retreat, even if this was performed in disorder. Any Soviet attempt to have stood and fought near the border would have been disastrous.

The failure of the Blitzkrieg in the Baltic states resulted largely from deficiencies in the German high command. This was especially so for the German military intelligence apparatus, which had been revealed as inadequate. If the 8th Army and 11th Army had been totally destroyed in the Baltic, the USSR could have protected Leningrad with a number of other armies whose very existence was unknown to Oberst Eberhard Kinzel’s Fremde Heer Ost Abteilung II (Foreign Armies East Department 2) of the Oberkommando des Heeres, as too was the deployment of the 8th Army and 11th Army in a depth somewhat greater than was believed. The German disregard of topographical intelligence was less excusable. Forests and lakes on the approaches to Leningrad were easily identifiable from the air and large numbers of repatriated Volksdeutsch and Baltic refugees were available to give detailed information about the Baltic states. Many German officers, including von Küchler, commander of the 18th Army, had served in the Baltic states after World War I and the clandestine 'Forest Brotherhood' organisation operated in the rear of the Soviet forces and was in radio communication with the Germans. Much of the Baltic states and all of the approaches to Leningrad were unsuitable for armoured warfare, yet this was not acknowledged until the 4th Panzergruppe had come to a halt in the marshy forests near Lake Ilmen. On 26 July Generalleutnant Friedrich Paulus, as Halder’s representative, visited an unhappy von Manstein, and was told that the best course would be to withdraw all the tanks from the Heeresgruppe 'Nord' area as there was no possibility of any rapid advance. Reinhardt and Hoepner were of the same opinion, and regarded the whole of the Peipus and Ilmen area as entirely unsuitable for armour. That same night, after receiving Paulus’s report, Halder not that the the only alternative would be the use of infantry and thus a reduction in the pace of operations. Although still superior as tacticians, the Germans were still not the complete masters of armoured warfare as assumed by all their enemies. Hitler, the high command and many of the more senior field commanders were ignorant, or at best only half-informed, of the characteristics and capabilities of the armoured arm. The use of tanks in mass had served the Germans well on the plains of Poland, the fields of France and the mountainous but open country in the Balkans, and as a result there emerged the notion that the tank was the answer to every tactical situation; no consideration of the terrain over which the tank was to operate was taken into account. Too much was asked of the Panzer arm, and the planning of Panzer operations, taking the form of little more than drawing lines across a map and calling them axes, was done by Hitler and the high command with no consideration of practicality. The German political appreciation had been equally at fault, as the USSR had no intention of holding the Baltic states come what may.

The resources available to Heeresgruppe 'Nord' were thus inadequate in numbers and weapons for the army group’s task. The Leningrad’s population was in the order of three million persons, and during the summer of 1941 about 500,000 of these people were building fortifications to cover the southern approaches to the city. With this great reserve of manpower, the supply of reinforcements presented no problem and by the middle of July new home guard workers' divisions were being formed, of which a number entered action with the Soviet army. Even if the 4th Panzergruppe had reached and entered Leningrad, it remains a moot point that it could have cleared the built-up and industrial area without heavy infantry support or, after clearing it, hold it against Soviet counterattack or infiltration. The few divisions of the 4th Panzergruppe in the forests outside Leningrad was, as Oberst Walter Chales de Beaulieu, its chief-of-staff, later admitted just a drop in the ocean, and its average rate of progress, which before 10 July had been 17 miles (27 km) per day, dropped during August to little more than 1 mile (1.6 km) per day.

Later Soviet accounts were generally silent on the effects of terrain and distance on German movement, and instead attributed German failure to the success of Soviet arms. In the very early days the resistance of the Soviet forces was weak, but this became sturdier as the fighting crossed from annexed soil to Russia proper. Without this resistance, Heeresgruppe 'Nord' would have reached Leningrad and linked with the Finns. On the other hand, it was only the forests and marshes which prevented the total destruction of the North-West Front however had it fought.

The German campaign in the Baltic states and western Russia was both badly conceived and poorly planned. On 3 July Halder, who in these early days of the 'Barbarossa' campaign appears to have agreed with Hitler’s general war aims, noted that, as soon as the Dvina and Dniepr rivers had been crossed, the war would entail not so much the destruction of the Soviet armed forces but rather the seizure of the Soviet industrial and production areas. On 8 July Halder recorded that Hitler had developed 'a new thought' that stressed the need to cut off Leningrad in the south-east by von Manstein’s ill-fated thrust through the Lake Ilmen forests, and added his own comment that Hitler 'was quite correct'. On this same day Hitler decided that armoured forces should not be committed in the assault on Leningrad, but rather that the city, together with Moscow, should be totally destroyed, indeed razed, by bombing. The absence of a coherent strategy had the untold effect of degrading confidence and enhancing mutual suspicion among the field commanders, and the incessant interfering in tactical detail finally resulted in disorder. Hitler wanted everything, everywhere, and all at once. The careful and detailed planning formerly associated with the German general staff had given way to the whim, the intuition, the latest thought and the afterthought.

Meanwhile, on 3 July, Stalin had made a public address by radio, calling for a scorched earth policy in the areas which the Soviet forces had to abandon. In northern Estonia, the Soviet destruction battalions had the greatest impact as this was the last Baltic territory facing capture by the Germans. The anti-Soviet 'Forest Brothers', numbering some 12,000 persons, attacked the forces of the NKVD and the 8th Army, and the Soviet response to the 'Forest Brothers' and the implementation of the scorched earth tactics were accompanied by a major terror against the civilian population, which was treated as either the supporter or the shelterer of the insurgents. Destruction battalions burned farms and some small towns, and in their turn the men the extermination battalions were at risk of reprisals by the anti-Soviet partisans. Many thousands of people, including a large proportion of women and children, were killed, while dozens of villages, schools and public buildings were burned. In August all the residents of the village of Viru-Kabala were killed. In the Kautla massacre, 20 civilians were murdered, many of them after being tortured, and several farms were destroyed. The relatively low total of deaths in comparison with the number of burned farms resulted from the success of the Erna group, which was an Estonian-manned long-range reconnaissance unit of the Finnish army, in breaking the Soviet blockade on the area, allowing many civilians to escape. The destruction battalions murdered 1,850 Estonians, almost all of them insurgents or unarmed civilians.

After the 18th Army crossed Estonia’s southern border on 7/9 July, the 'Forest Brothers' began to organise themselves into larger units, and on 5 July had fought 8th Army units and destruction battalions at Antsla. On the following day, there was a larger engagement at Vastseliina, where the 'Forest Brothers' prevented the Soviet destruction of the town and trapped the commanders of the extermination battalions and local communist administrators, and on 7 July, the 'Forest Brothers' raised the Estonian flag in Vastseliina. Võru was subsequently liberated and by the time the 18th Army arrived, Estonian flags were already at full mast and the 'Forest Brothers' had organised into the Omakaitse militia.

The Battle of Tartu lasted for two weeks and destroyed a large part of the city. Under the leadership of Friedrich Kurg, the 'Forest Brothers' drove the Soviets from Tartu, behind the line linking the Pärnu river and Emajõgi, and by 10 July had secured southern Estonia under Estonian control. Before its retreat on 8 July, the NKVD murdered 193 people in Tartu prison.

The 18th Army resumed its advance deeper into Estonia in co-operation with the 'Forest Brothers'. The combined German and Estonian forces took Narva on 17 August, and by the end of August, Tallinn was surrounded, with the majority of the Baltic Fleet still lying at anchor in the harbour. It was on 19 August that the German and Estonian assault on Tallinn began, and these combined forces took the Estonian capital on 28 August after suffering heavy losses. Once the Soviet forces had been driven from Estonia, German troops disarmed all of the 'Forest Brothers' groups, and the Estonian flag was replaced shortly with the flag of Germany.

On 8 September, German and Estonian units launched 'Beowulf' to clear the last Soviet forces from the West Estonian island archipelago. There was also a series of diversionary attacks to confuse the Soviet defence, and the operation had achieved its objectives by 21 October.

Expecting a Soviet break-out attempt, Grossadmiral Erich Raeder’s Kriegsmarine (German navy) and Kontra-amiraali Hjalmar von Bonsdorff’s Merivoimat (Finnish navy) had on 8 August begun the laying of minefields off Cape Juminda on the Lahemaa coast. While Soviet minesweepers tried to clear a path for convoys through these minefields, the Germans installed a battery of 150-mm (5.91-in) coastal artillery pieces near Cape Juminda and the Finnish navy gathered their 2nd Motor Torpedo Boat Flotilla with the patrol boats VMV9, VMV10, VMV11 and VMV17. At the same time the Germans concentrated Kapitänleutnant Friedrich Kemnade’s 3rd Schnellbootsflottille with the S-boats S-26, S-27, S-39, S-40 and S-101 at Suomenlinna outside Helsinki. The Junkers Ju 88 medium bombers of Major Hartwig’s Kampfgruppe 806 based on airfields in Estonia were put on alert pending the final German assault on Tallinn during 19 August. On the night of 27/28 August, General Major Ivan F. Nikolaev’s X Corps of General Leytenant Piotr S. Pshennikov’s 8th Army, within General Major Piotr P. Sobennikov’s North-West Front of Marshal Sovetskogo Soyuza Kliment Ye. Voroshilov’s North-Western Direction, disengaged from its task of defending Tallinn and boarded transport vessels in Tallinn’s harbour.

The embarkation was shielded by the generation of thick smoke screens, but the Soviet minesweeping effort in the days before the evacuation’s beginning had been ineffective as a result of adverse weather, and there were no Soviet aircraft available to provide overhead protection for the embarkation. Together with heavy German shelling and aerial bombardment, this killed at least 1,000 of the evacuees in the harbour.

A total of 20 large transport vessels, eight auxiliary ships, nine small transport vessels, one tanker, one tug and one tender were organised into four convoys, protected by the heavy cruiser Kirov with Tributs on board, two flotilla leaders, nine destroyers, three torpedo boats, 12 submarines, 10 modern and 15 obsolete minehunters, 22 minesweepers, 21 submarine chasers, three gunboats, one minelayer, 13 patrol vessels and 11 torpedo boats.

On 28 August German bombers of Oberstleutnant Johann Raithel’s Kampfgeschwader 77 and the KGr 806 sank the 2,026-ton steamer Vironia, 2,317-ton Lucerne, 1,423-ton Atis Kronvalds and 2,250-ton icebreaker Krisjanis Valdemars. The rest of the Soviet fleet were forced to change course, but this took it through a heavily mined area. As a result, 21 Soviet warships, including five destroyers, struck mines and sank. On 29 August, General Wolfram Freiherr von Richthofen’s VIII Fliegerkorps of Generaloberst Alfred Keller’s Luftflotte I, now reinforced with Oberst Alexander Holle’s KG 76, Oberst Hans-Joachim Rath’s KG 4 and Oberst Karl Angerstein’s KG 1, sank three transport ships in the form of the 3,974-ton Vtoraya Pyatiletka, 2,190-ton Kalpaks and 1,270-tin Leningradsovet, while Ivan Papanin, Saule, Kazakhstan and Serp i Molot were damaged by the bombers of Major Klaus Nöske’s I/KG 4, which also sank three more vessels. Some 5,000 Soviet soldiers were killed in these attacks.

Later in the evening of the same day, the Soviet armada came under attack by Finnish and German torpedo boats, and the chaotic nature of the current situation made organised minesweeping impossible. Darkness fell at 22.00 and the Soviet armada stopped and anchored at midnight in the heavily mined waters.

Early on 29 August, Ju 88 bombers attacked the remains of the convoys off the Finnish island of Suursaari in the Gulf of Finland, sinking two transports. Meanwhile, the undamaged ships steamed at their maximum speeds to reach the safety of the coastal artillery batteries sited on Kronstadt island off Leningrad. The heavily damaged merchant ship Kazakhstan disembarked 2,300 of the 5,000 men she had on board before steaming to Kronstadt. In the following days ships operating from Suursaari rescued 12,160 survivors.